We Need A Way To Remove Google Search Results That Harm Us

Read and Sign the Petition at change.org "The Right to Remove Personal Information from Search Engines in the U.S."

Q: Why Do We Need A Way To Remove Search Results From Google?

A: We're Being Surveilled By Google!

Everyone knows that Google already has way too much information about each of us. And some of it is very private and we'd rather it not be so public. We'd like an easy way to delete search results that invade our privacy. Unfortunately there is no simple way to delete Google results, no matter how damaging they are.

But it's not just a privacy issue. Google's search results can do actual harm to careers and reputations especially when the information revealed is misleading or false. Because of citizen complaints and the fact that the search results are not filtered to rule out potential harm, the EU has legislated a fix for the privacy issue where Google must remove upon request, search results that meet certain requirements. But in the US, Google search results often are damaging to individuals and businesses in ways that are completely unaddressable at the moment. Google is creating victims and often those victims have no recourse to correct the record.

It's very clear we need a legal mandate to require Google to provide a process for removing search results that cause harm or violate privacy.

Case #1

One victim had been a shareholder and a director of a startup. Six months after he left the business, one of the officers was convicted of fraud. The story made the business press and Forbes published the story using an old photo with the victim pictured in the same frame as the convicted officer. Anyone reading the article would know that our victim was innocent of the fraud, but the association suggested a connection that didn't exist.  Unfortunately for our victim, who was no longer an owner, the story harmfully connected him to the crime directly in the search results, where a Google search for his name yielded the Forbes article at #1 with a title "Inside The Scandal..." The publisher agreed to change the images on their website, but the content remained, as did the search result. Google did not respond to requests to remove the search results.

So those search results remained, causing lasting reputational damage and lots of skeptical questions directed at the victim. A good friend of the victim finally hired a unique removal service to hide the negative search result by pushing it off page 1. The fact that this service even exists speaks to a need that should have been addressed by Google, or with appropriate government regulation long ago.

Case #2

The son of a local tv celebrity was busted for a spectacularly crazy marijuana episode that was captured on video by the cops. The kid had hollowed out a carrot and made an edible pipe for smoking his stash, thinking he could eat the evidence if need be. Problem was he was leaning up against the van that was surveilling him and the entire thing was taped and then replayed on a national news commentary. Of course it hit the internet news sites and as a result the Google search had multiple pages of results that told the story. His parents were freaking out because he was in the process of applying to colleges and they wanted nothing to harm his chances. The seo who advised them saw that on Google's first page, the majority of the 10 results for searches for the father or son, were related to the embarrassing story. This would be a hugely expensive removal, since many of the results were on national news platforms, so nothing was done. The bad news was that the family was in for some search induced embarrassment for years. The good news: this was one of those cases where the story was more embarrassing than harmful - some news reports even commented that the kid demonstrated creativity.

Case #3

A hedge fund manager was unable to raise money from investors once the search results started showing the bankruptcy proceedings of a former business in searches for his name. He briefly hired a search results removal service but cancelled when he realized he could no longer support the cost. These Google search results posed an existential problem for this person that he could not afford to address. We later learned that in desperation, he changed his name and tried to create a completely new identity (stealing one's own identity?) to start over. So definitely a far from ideal outcome. While painful, this example is one where the search results probably should include his failures with another business. As an investor, I would want to know about his record. There are plenty of examples where we want and need to know someone's background and don't want them to be able to hide it. The principals of the search removal service mentioned here told us that they have introduced policies preventing them from taking on clients who want to hide criminal record. In the past, when working for a reputation management firm, they removed search results that they later regretted - that the person was indeed defrauding people and was now paying to sanitize their toxic search results, perhaps to defraud more victims. And if you've been reading the news, you know that this is a real problem, because shady types with money can pay to whitewash a shady past. As you can see, ethical issues abound in this realm.

What's Wrong With This Picture?

These examples illustrate what's wrong with the way things are as it relates to Google's search results. For one, the ability to remove a problem result is determined by money. You can remove it if you can pay for the service that cleans it up. And paying a service encourages a corruption of sorts because the way they remove the bad result is to push it down by optimizing harmless content to outrank it. So you're paying someone to manipulate Google's search results to fix a problem Google created for you. For the privileged, the problem goes away with a hefty fee. For the rest of us, the problem may be career ending or worse.

Imagine the handicap that comes with a future employer seeing that DUI arrest when your name is searched. That may sound bad, but it's minor compared to what some people face. Imagine being tied to crimes committed by relatives or spouses because those crimes feature prominently in Google searches for your name. You will get questions about this, and somehow your explanations will not be good enough to counter the stature of what's visible in the Google search. A bad search result can trigger repeated accusations and demands for explanations. And you'll never know all the opportunities that got sidelined when someone searched your name and didn't like what they saw. These are serious obstacles that can paralyze your ability to navigate society successfully, yet Google has no incentive to offer solutions to problems their search results create. There are good reasons for their users to push for changes.

Read and Sign the Petition at change.org "The Right to Remove Personal Information from Search Engines in the U.S."


Overly Severe Punishment For Youthful Indiscretion

Kids do stupid things. And there's a high probability of some bad behavior during their development. Everyone makes mistakes. But sometimes that bad behavior makes the news. Published reports of teens caught shoplifting, damaging property, arrested for underage drinking, acting out in school, posting slanderous social media comments, etc. are frequently reported in the press. The problem is the permanence of those news stories, because they are posted a digitized environment where everything is archived. 

It's probably not hard to believe that you or your family member was one of those kids who made the news back then.

Fast forward 10-15 years. The child is now a responsible citizen and a productive member of society. But if the search for this person's name reveals a negative news item about a youthful indiscretion, even one from a decade ago, it could severely harm their job search or professional advancement, since all employers will very likely know about it. In a world where Google rules without accountability, there will be ruined lives.


Who Can Help?

Google's search results have harmed so many people that there are now vendors profiting from this pain by selling a solution - they claim they can hide those problem results. If you have the money, usually at least $3,000 plus a monthly fee you can buy help. An entire industry of online reputation managers has sprung up offering search result removal along with a list of accompanying services. You can find them by doing a Google search for "reputation management". This is typically an ongoing service with a monthly fee sold to many businesses to include things like monitoring the press for mentions, managing and encouraging reviews, advertising and pr, etc. An alternative that may be more appropriate for individuals are the specialists like imfy.us that exclusively handle search result removals. Their simple business model of only doing removals streamlines the process and reduces costs. They also are transparent about what exactly they do to remove the problem search results. Learn more here.


Advice From Google

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Make Your Voice Heard

Read and Sign the Petition at change.org "The Right to Remove Personal Information from Search Engines in the U.S."