Google’s Personal Data Removal Process: Insights from John Mueller
5 mins read

Google’s Personal Data Removal Process: Insights from John Mueller

In today’s digital world, where personal information is so easily accessible online, protecting your privacy is vital.

Recently, a Reddit user wanted to remove personal information from Google searches.

Her experience and subsequent discussion with Google’s John Mueller illustrates the complex process and guidelines surrounding Google’s content removal tools.

In addition to Mueller’s advice, this article covers the following details that will help get Google to remove personally identifiable information:

  • Criteria for Evaluating Removal Requests
  • The typical time frame for content removal
  • The options available when a request is denied

Mueller’s advice on removing content from Google

The Reddit user describes his experience:

“I had personal information on a website that published it without my consent. The site removed it at my request and I then used Google’s content removal tool to remove the result from the search engine. The removal request was approved. However, when I used Google’s image removal tool on a photo that was part of the removed post, my request was denied.”

The user’s main question: “How long does it take for Google Search to delete outdated content like my photo?”

Mueller replied:

“I suspect the image had multiple URLs showing it, so it’s possible it’s just showing at a slightly different address now. In this case, simply provide the URL that is currently being used. I think you can just right click, use copy link in search and submit it with the tool.”

A simple solution, straight from one of Google’s Search Advocates.

However, it’s not always that easy. Learn more about the processes and policies for removing personal information from Google Search here.

Google’s content removal tools and guidelines

Google recognizes that some types of personal information published online can cause serious problems, such as identity theft or fraud. To make this easier, Google offers the possibility to request a removal in certain cases.

First, you fill out a form to request deletion of your personal data.

Google then reviews each case to decide if it meets removal standards.

The following types of information can be removed:

  • Confidential government IDs
  • bank account numbers
  • credit card numbers
  • Pictures of handwritten signatures
  • Very personal documents (e.g. medical records)
  • Personal Contact Information

Occasionally, Google removes professional contact information from people, such as work address and phone number.

This is especially true when this information is released alongside threatening messages – a practice called “doxing”.

When deciding what to remove, Google balances the public’s right to know and people’s privacy.

Key information from official sources, news sources, and professional content is usually saved in search results.

The removal process

After you submit a request to remove information from search results, you will automatically receive an email confirming that Google has received it.

Google will review your request and request more details if necessary. You will receive another email once Google has made a decision.

If your query meets Google’s standards, one of two things will happen: either the pages you’re trying to remove won’t appear in the search results, or they’ll be omitted from the search results for searches of your name or other identifier.

If your request is denied, Google will provide a brief explanation for why. But don’t give up – if you later get more evidence to support your case, you can resubmit your request for a second look.

Time Frame for Content Removal

Google attempts to process removal requests within 24 to 48 hours. However, it can take up to three months for Google to completely remove outdated information.

If Google denies your removal request, carefully review the reasons and try to fix the issues.

You may resubmit your application if you believe the rejection was in error or if you have new supporting information.

Alternatively, you can contact the source directly and ask them to remove it.

Even if Google removes the link from search results, the information may still exist elsewhere on the web. So it’s best to go back to the source whenever possible.

In total

Removing personal data from Google takes time and a clear understanding of policies and processes.

Keep in mind that Google balances individual privacy with the public’s right to access information, which impacts removal requests.

If Google denies your request, it may help to resubmit it with more details or consider legal options. However, complete removal is not guaranteed.

For more information on requesting removal of personal information from Google Search, visit the official help page.


Featured image created by the author using Midjourney.