How to Delete Yourself from Google Searches
Looking to regain a little privacy? Follow these steps to remove your personal information from Google searches—or at least hide the more embarrassing stuff.
There’s a good reason people are opting to remove personal information from Google: A simple Google search can potentially give someone more information about you than you’d like. A stalker, an employer, or a nosy coworker can often easily find information about where you live, if you’ve had a bankruptcy, your family’s names, and more. In some cases, confidential information like your credit card details, medical history, and signature are also available. At best, this can be embarrassing. At worst, it raises concerns about online security, including identity theft, doxxing, and spoofing.
It can be tempting to try to disappear completely from the Internet. But that takes a lot of legwork, especially when it comes to data brokers, and there is still likely to be a trace of you online. And while Google collects a lot of information about you—yes, even if you do an anonymous search without tracking, use Google Incognito mode, delete your Google activity, and say no to cookies—it doesn’t include that data in its search results. So if you’re concerned about the personal info that’s appearing in a Google search, you’re better off taking it up with the source: Google.
The search giant is making a show of its efforts to protect our privacy these days. Google announced in April that it has updated its policies to allow people to request the removal of their sensitive and personally identifiable information from search results. This adds to existing policies allowing people to request the removal of highly personal information that could cause them direct harm. So read on to find out the easiest way to remove personal information from Google. Then keep improving your digital security by learning how to tell if your computer has been hacked.
What information can I remove from Google?
- Home address
- Telephone number
- Email address
- Work address
- Credit card or bank details
- Medical history
- Confidential log-in details
If you think having this kind of information out there isn’t important, perhaps it’s time you learned what someone can do with your phone number and what someone can do with your email address.
First of all, should you remove personal information from Google?
It’s definitely a personal choice, and your specific situation should inform your decision. “Some people are fortunate to have common names, so when they do Google themselves, they may be buried in the search results,” says Andrew Selepak, a social media professor at the University of Florida. “But people with more unique names may appear in the first few Google search results.”
Before you go on a deleting spree, first take a look at what actually comes up when you Google yourself. To do this, open an incognito window by going to the Chrome browser menu and selecting “File” and “New Incognito Window.” Then type your name into the search box surrounded by quotes. For example, if your name is Joe Jones, you would search “Joe Jones.” Be sure to Google your first and last name, and then your first, middle, and last name. Take note of what pops up on the searches. These will be what you want to focus on removing, if they seem problematic.
Remove personal information from Google for the right reasons
If you’re trying to delete yourself from Google searches so that corporations won’t have your information, you’re going in the wrong direction. Most of the information that companies get about you isn’t gathered from a Google search. This information is typically collected from your social media usage or your online shopping habits, and other data-gathering techniques.
Once the information is in hand, it’s sold from company to company. So even if you decide to wipe yourself from Google searches, there will likely still be plenty of information about you floating around. Removing yourself from Google search results will only help prevent future employers, potential stalkers, and nosy people from easily finding your personal information.
OK, so you’ve made an informed decision to remove personal information from Google. Let’s dive in.
How do I remove all my personal information from Google?
To remove yourself from searches, your first—and maybe most obvious—step is to delete your social media accounts, or at least change the information from your real name to a fake name. “Google can’t show information that doesn’t exist,” says Dave Nilsson, a digital marketing expert with The Converted Click. “If a website removes your credentials, Google will re-crawl, and your information will no longer appear in search results.”
Don’t forget to delete or change old accounts that you haven’t used in years, like on MySpace or Reddit. Googling yourself should turn up any old accounts you may not remember.
Want to keep your accounts? Set your Facebook, Instagram, and other social media accounts to “private,” which prevents Google from showing your pictures in search results too, notes Nilsson. Note, however, that it can take weeks for deleted content to stop showing in search results. For anything that still remains, you can petition Google.
Here’s how to remove personal information from Google via the search engine’s request form:
- Use this form to request that Google either hide the search results or delete the content.
- Depending on which option you pick, you’ll be asked for more information, such as whether you are requesting the content be removed from Google search results and a website or just the search results, and whether or not you’ve contacted the website owner.
- From there, specify what type of personal information is showing up in the Google Search.
- Check the box indicating the content is live (use this form instead if the content has already been removed but is still showing up).
- Google will ask whether the request pertains to doxxing, which the company defines as “contact information being shared with malicious, threatening, or harassing intent.” However you reply, you’ll need to provide links to the offending website, search results, or picture and give your name, country of residence, and email address.
- Toward the end of the form, you have the opportunity to share a list of relevant search terms, such as your full name, nicknames, and maiden name. Google will also ask you to share supplementary details before signing and submitting the removal request.
How long does it take for Google to remove personal information?
Google will send you an email right after your submission to acknowledge it has received your request. The company may contact you if your request does not provide enough details, such as the URLs of the offending content. You will then get a notification of any action taken, such as whether the URLs will be removed from all searches or just those containing your name or other provided identifiers.
If the case does not meet the requirements for removal, you’ll receive a brief explanation as to why and be given a chance to supply additional materials to support your case and resubmit your claim. Unfortunately, Google has not specified how long it is likely to take for decisions to be made.
Will this remove my personal information from the Internet?
Not exactly. Google only has power over what appears in its search results—not what appears on the Internet as a whole. Plus, there’s no guarantee that the search engine will agree to remove the results containing your information, or that it will remove your info from all searches instead of just those containing your name and aliases.
Google has also stated that when it receives removal requests, it will evaluate all content on the webpage to ensure that it’s not limiting the availability of other information that is broadly useful, like information in news articles. It also won’t remove results when the content appears as part of the public record on government or official websites.
And finally, just because something is removed from a Google search does not mean it’s been removed from the Internet. The information could still be found via a different search engine or if direct links to the content are posted on social media, for example. You would need to contact the owner of the website directly if you want your information removed from the page. You can typically find contact information on a site’s About Us or Contact pages. If that garners no helpful information, go to WhoIs.com to get the contact information.
Can I push down results that I can’t remove?
If you have an embarrassing mug shot or other issue that shows up on a Google search and you can’t seem to get rid of it—even after contacting Google or the site owner—you can at least force whatever you don’t like to show up farther down in the results, according to tech expert Caleb Riutta of Dusk Digital.
You do this by flooding Google with other pages that have your name. New social media accounts on different platforms and a new personal blog can all push the embarrassing information back in the search results. “When you update your information in as many places as you can online, Google will start showing this first, as it is up to date and relevant,” Riutta explains.
Of course, this counteracts the idea of wiping yourself from Google, but at least it will make a search present you in a better light. Going forward, be sure to avoid any social media posts that might get you fired or otherwise tarnish your newly positive Google search results.
What else can I do to remove my personal information from the Internet?
Besides removing your personal information from Google searches, there are other steps you can take to delete more of your digital footprint. Let’s take a quick look.
Contact data-collection sites and data-broker services
While Googling yourself, you probably found sites that say things like, “We’ve found the phone number for Joe Jones” or “Click here to get the arrest records of Joe Jones.” These sites are data-collection and data-broker sites. You can use them to access information about someone—including their address, court history, phone number, and family members’ names—for a fee.
Getting your data removed from these sites is totally doable, but it can be a hassle, as each one has a different process. You’ll need to follow the instructions on each individual site, or you can use services like DeleteMe, which will do the work for you, for a fee.
Keep in mind: There’s a chance your info could end up on these sites again in the future. One way to limit the amount of data you inadvertently share is to use good passwords and two-factor authentication, and possibly a password manager that’ll help you keep track of them without relying on common password lists. Another tip from cybersecurity experts: Turn off location tracking on your iPhone and in any apps you use to prevent them from collecting and selling your data.
Delete website comments
Believe it or not, simple comments on website articles can come up in a search too. If you can’t log on to the site and delete the comment yourself, you’ll need to contact the owners and ask them to manually remove the comment. Remember, though, that website owners don’t have to delete comments, and probably won’t, but it’s worth a shot.
“The Internet is still the Wild West, with little government regulation, and it is very difficult to have anything taken down, even if it makes you look bad or is embarrassing,” Selepak says. “Your only recourse is the kindness of strangers, and sadly, we don’t live in a very kind time.”
Hide your home on Google Maps
A Google search of your address will bring up a photo of your home on Google Maps. If that makes you uncomfortable, you can get Google to blur out your house quite easily.
Go to Google Maps, search for your address, and click on the photo of your home. The image will enlarge, and you’ll see a black box appear with your address. Click on the menu inside the box and choose “Report a Problem.” Fill out the form that comes up on-screen and submit it when you’re done. One important note: Google can’t undo this change.
Practice good digital hygiene
Good digital hygiene goes beyond—and may be more important than—Google search results. So as you take stock of the personal information available on Google, consider how you might address security issues that put you at risk for cybersecurity threats such as phishing attacks, spyware, and identity theft.
By investing in security apps and RFID-blocking wallets and learning tricks from the experts—like how to remove spyware from an iPhone and avoid public Wi-Fi dangers—you can thwart would-be hackers and thieves.
Additional reporting by Alina Bradford.
- Andrew Selepak, social media professor at the University of Florida
- Dave Nilsson, digital marketing expert with The Converted Click
- Caleb Riutta, a tech expert at Dusk Digital
- Google: “New options for removing your personally identifiable information from Search”
- Google: “Remove select personally identifiable info or doxxing content from Google Search”