Google has expanded its content removal policy (opens in new tab) for personal information and as a result, private medical records will no longer appear in Google search results.
According to a report from Bloomberg (opens in new tab), the ‘Information we may remove’ section of Google’s Removal Policy was quietly changed on June 22 to include “confidential, personal medical records of private people.”
If you’re wondering how private medical records could appear in Google’s search results in the first place, it’s perfectly possible following a hack, a leak or a simple error.
For example, late last year (opens in new tab) a pathology lab in India accidentally uploaded the records of over 43,000 patients which included information such as names and HIV test results.
No results found
As Google’s indexing system will automatically add any publicly available information, leaks such as this can be emotionally, personally and financially devastating to the individuals affected.
Usually preferring to take a more hands-off, algorithmic approach to content removal, Google doesn’t often change this policy – the last change was made in 2015 when the company committed to contribute to tackling revenge porn by removing “nude or sexually explicit images that were uploaded or shared without your consent.”
Prior to this it only removed information such as national identification numbers, bank account details, credit card information and images of signatures.
However, with the rise in instances of hacking and the spread of fake news this approach has received some criticism. Google has been forced to make changes to its search ranking system as well as its content removal policy.
Though this private information could potentially still appear on other search engines and be accessed directly, its removal from Google will drastically reduce the likelihood of it being found due to the search engine’s sheer scale and reach.