How to remove your phone number or address from Google search results

With a simple Google search, strangers can dig up your phone number, home address, or other personal information. Maybe you don’t want that floating around the internet – or its presence could put you in danger.

Now Google says it’s easier to request that information be removed from search results. A new shortcut, teased by Google in May, will roll out in its app and alongside search results in the US over the next two weeks. Previously, you could request removal of this type of information using this form.

The change comes as concerns grow about the link between online privacy and real-world security. This month, the Kiwi Farms stalker forum was shut down after forum members spent years harassing women and LGBTQ people, often posting their home addresses and phone numbers. Victims of domestic violence are also at risk when their personal information appears online. Some jurisdictions, including the European Union, have enacted a “right to be forgotten” that gives people the right to request the deletion of their personal information from corporate databases or the Internet, but the United States has not passed such a law.

In addition to requesting search results removal, starting early next year, people will be able to sign up for notifications when their personal information appears in new results, Google says.

“Although removing these results will not remove your contact information from the web altogether, we do everything we can to protect your information on Google Search,” said Danny Sullivan, Google’s public search liaison, in a statement Explanation.

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To request removal of a result: In the Google app or Chrome browser, tap or click the three dots next to a search result. A window titled “About this result” should appear. Scroll down and select the Remove Result button. After you fill out a removal form, Google says it takes a few days to process your request. You can check the status by tapping your profile icon in the top right and selecting “Results about you”.

Mass data collection by corporations and the government has made it increasingly difficult for targets of harassment or abuse to keep their personal information off the Internet, says Alejandra Caraballo, an associate professor at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic. Even if people remove their personal information from search results, it can still likely be bought by data brokers, companies that amass and sell vast amounts of personal information.

“This [Google tool] is still in its early stages and it remains to be seen how effective it is,” Caraballo said. “A lot of this information is still available through data brokers, and this type of free-flowing large-scale sharing of individuals’ personal information is something that federal agencies need to look into.”

Deleting your information from data broker sites requires either time to submit dozens of data deletion requests or money to pay a third-party service like DeleteMe to do it for you. While Google’s new tool won’t solve online stalking, it does give people a valuable free tool, said Nina Jankowicz, vice president of the Anti-Disinformation Center for Information Resilience.

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Not all anti-harassment advocates celebrate the tool’s design. Coraline Ehmke, an open source software developer, questioned Google’s approach. Why does the onus of protecting against online harassment almost always falls on individuals, she asked. How does Google determine the validity of takedown requests? And why do users need to be signed in to a Google account to use Results About You? Given Google’s sprawling ad business, Ehmke said she would think twice before giving out more of her personal information to file a takedown request.

“What do we have to sign up for to sign out?” she said. “It feels like privacy in hindsight.”

“‘Results about you’ [The feature] uses both technological enhancements and human verification to prevent abuse of the removal process,” said Google spokesman Ned Adriance. Google will not share the information users enter in a removal request, and will not use it to “personalize your experience,” he noted.

The new tool won’t delete your phone number and address from the internet, but Jankowicz says it’s a step in the right direction for privacy.

“In the information environment we’re in, it’s incumbent on all of us to be a little proactive in managing our online presence,” she said. “It’s a great thing that Google is publishing this, especially for people who are frequent victims of abuse, harassment or stalking.”

If you haven’t seen the tool yet, or you’re trying to remove other types of information like financial information or medical records, go to this Google form. You can also ask Google to remove offensive photos that are fake, posted without your consent, or appear next to your name for no reason.

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