Guarding Personal Data in Google


In a move that David Smith, the UK’s deputy Information Commissioner and head of data protection, said was too vague, [1] Google recently consolidated more than sixty privacy policies into one document. Since then, user privacy and how to guard personal data in things like Google search results has been a topic of much discussion.

Everyone has personal information and data that they’d rather not share, or would at least prefer to restrict other peoples’ access to. Even though it’s impossible to moderate the entire Internet all the time, there are a few useful pieces of advice that web users can follow to ensure the security of their personal data. It turns out that most user data can be protected simply by exercising good judgment and being proactive.

One of the easiest ways to guard personal data in Google search results is to use common sense when publishing it. Google’s own support documents [2] simply tell users that they should think twice about posting something if they wouldn’t be comfortable with the public seeing a photograph or other content. This is by far the most effective way for users to protect their personal data, since it prevents any potential problems before they occur.

Supposing that content has already been made available, users still have steps they can take to protect their personal data. The steps to keep user data private depend on whether it was the user or another person who published it. In the case of self-published content, such as Facebook posts, keeping it out of Google’s search results is usually as simple as modifying account settings on the site where the content was published. This will keep Google from indexing the data and including it in search results, making sure that users’ social networking lives are kept separate from Google’s search indexes.

This same strategy applies to the use of Google’s own products, as well. provides a helpful set of tips [3] about how to manage privacy settings within Google’s services. This includes tactics such as restricting privacy on Picasa photo albums and other Google products as well as opting out of Google’s Behavioral Advertising. Following these steps can limit the availability of user data to Google itself, as well as other users.

In the case where something such as personal information or other data has been published by a third party, having it removed does become more difficult. Difficult does not equal impossible, though, and it is certainly still possible to remove the offending content. Since Google doesn’t control the content of third-party websites, users will need to directly contact the webmaster of the site hosting the content. If the content is removed, Google’s set of webmaster tools provides a URL removal to have the link to the data omitted from search results.

When all else fails, the most effective methods can be to counter negative content or, in the case of illegally posted content, legal intervention. If negative information has been published, publishing something that provides a positive counterpoint can help offset the ill effect of search results. This is especially useful for businesses that have negative information posted about them. In cases where a person’s private information has been posted without consent, contacting authorities may be warranted if no other recourse is effective.

The Internet is everywhere these days, and that has made protecting privacy a more important issue than ever. Gone are the days of operating under online aliases or not having to worry about accountability. However, with the use of common sense and the information contained here, users can protect their data in both Google products and Google search results.





Dan Petrovic, the managing director of DEJAN, is Australia’s best-known name in the field of search engine optimisation. Dan is a web author, innovator and a highly regarded search industry event speaker.

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