How to remove personal data from Google – and protect yourself from fraudsters

With cybercrime, hacking, and scams on the rise, the way Internet companies handle your personal information has become a huge concern for millions of people. In recent years, huge security breaches have seen the private data of millions of people leaked or stolen and sold for profit on the dark web by online criminals.

First introduced by the EU in 2014, the ‘right to be forgotten’ allows EU and UK citizens to fill ina simple formwith details of the information they want removed from Google search listings.

Since the law was first introduced, Google says it has received more than 4.4 million ‘delisting’ requests concerning specific URLs, which are reviewed manually by its staff.

However, to date, it has only agreed to delistaround 47 percentof these requests. If a request is denied, you will receive a brief explanation via email.

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Google says that it will deny requests for various reasons, but that one of the main reasons for turning people down is because they deem the information to be ‘in the public interest’. This could refer to any information that relates to someone’s professional life, a past crime, or positions of authority.

"“The key term here is relevance, and the stuff you’re most likely to get removed is stuff that is no longer relevant," says Tony McChrystal, EMEA Managing Director of ReputationDefender, an online privacy and reputation management company. "Let’s say you’re a doctor who’s been suspended for drink driving or a teacher who's been suspended from work – well, that’s still relevant for a long, long time."

"They’ll also look at whether it’s in the public interest for that information to still be out there. If someone’s been done for fraud or money laundering, that’s information the public would still want to know."

Much of the information that Google tend to remove is basic personal information like names, addresses, and family information. Using data broker sites, fraudsters could piece together this sort of data – such as your previous addresses or your mother's maiden name – and use this information to reset your passwords and engineer a fake profile of you. This can open you up to serious online attacks and identity theft.

Perhaps the major risk area for your personal data is social media. According to Google, the bulk of removal requests they receive are URLs from social media sites, like Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. It’s important to note that even if a URL from one of these sites is delisted from Google Search, it does not guarantee that the site itself has removed it as they are separate entities.

The key, says McChrystal, is not to overshare on these platforms. "The obvious one which we should all be conscious of is oversharing on social media such as tagging yourself in a location," he explains. "The amount of times I see people tagging themselves at an airport terminal with a pint of lager saying ‘I can’t wait to get away for two weeks’."

"Well, anyone could go online and find your address in two seconds and know that house is empty for two weeks. So many people are so keen to overshare that they don’t realise how vulnerable it will leave them.”

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If you want to protect your data and privacy, the first thing you should do is a self-audit of your online presence. Start with a simple Google search of yourself and see what information is out there on you.

Once you build up a picture of your web presence, you can begin to piece together the kind of information you can and can't have removed. From there, you can request removal from the search engines or even work with web privacy companies to secure your online identity.

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