Google’s New Tool Will Alert You When Your Private Info Appears Online—Here’s What to Expect
Google's Results About You feature is a powerful tool to have in your online privacy toolbox, and soon it'll warn you when your personal info ends up in search results
In an age when the personal and financial information of billions of people is floating around online, just waiting for data brokers to snap it up and sell it, privacy has become a major concern. Google, a name synonymous with online search, recognized this issue when it announced the Results About You tool in May 2022 before officially rolling it out that October.
Considering the things Google knows about us, this was a welcome move. The feature empowered users to manage their personal information, such as phone numbers, street addresses and emails, that appears in search results. But having to check for new results and request their removal was enough of a slog to make us want to disappear from the internet altogether.
If you can relate, you’ll be happy to learn about an upcoming update. Soon, Google will take privacy control further by notifying users when their private information surfaces in searches, enabling them to promptly take action and regain control over their digital footprint. Here’s what you need to know to take advantage of Results About You alerts and avoid potential identity theft.
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Privacy in the internet age
In today’s always-online world, it’s astonishing how much of our personal information is scattered across the web. There’s a good chance that Google knows a lot about you just by virtue of it being the internet’s default search engine. Almost all your online activities, interactions and transactions leave behind digital footprints harvested by data brokers and companies for various purposes. This information can range from innocent contact details to more sensitive data, such as financial credentials.
The presence of this information online can not only compromise your privacy but also opens you up to potential risks, including identity theft, online scams such as phishing, and unsolicited marketing (the dreaded spam email and annoying robocalls). An easy and effective means for average internet users to manage and control their online footprint has never been more necessary.
How Results About You helps
Google heeded this call in 2022 with its Results About You feature. This tool was designed to address online privacy concerns by allowing users to have some level of control over the personal information that is available and shared via internet searches.
It initially required you to actively check and request the removal of unwanted information from Google’s search results. While undoubtedly a step in the right direction, this approach still relied on users being proactive about monitoring their online presence. For many of us, remembering to check and taking the necessary steps is a lot to ask.
How to get alerts when your personal info appears online
With the coming update, Google has shifted the paradigm by allowing you to receive notifications when your personal information surfaces on the internet. This new alert system will act as a guardian, informing you about instances in which your private details have become public. And it sidesteps the biggest barrier to using the Results About You feature: the need to hunt down the info yourself.
The feature covers a range of personal data, including phone numbers, residential addresses and emails. Depending on your preferences, you can receive these alerts through various channels, including via push notifications on your device or email alerts.
When the notification feature becomes available—the latest post from the company set a timeline of “the coming days”—you’ll need to use the Google app to opt in to alerts. Also, this will only be available in the United States initially, though the company has plans to roll out the feature in other countries soon.
Setting up the alert system is straightforward and will allow you to receive push notifications on your mobile device when Google detects your information online. You’ll start in the Google app (available on Android or Apple devices). Simply click on your Google profile icon, select “Results about you” and follow the on-screen prompts to opt in to alerts.
Considering the alert feature is still in the rollout phase for both Android and Apple devices, you’ll need to try another tactic if you want to remove your personal info from Google right now. Thankfully, you can still make requests via the regular Results About You feature (more on that below).
Is the Results About You feature worth it?
As someone who values privacy and has an active online presence, I found the current Results About You tool helpful. And I definitely plan on setting up alerts as soon as they become available. They’re a reassuring layer of passive protection, and I imagine they’ll be a welcome addition to my digital security toolbox. Being promptly notified when my personal information appears online will make it easy to spot privacy issues and take any necessary action to request its removal.
One thing to note, however, is that removing information via the Results About You feature (using either the current version or the forthcoming alert tool) affects Google search alone. If an item is removed there, it doesn’t disappear from the internet as a whole.
How to remove your personal info
You’re now familiar with the Results About You feature, and soon you’ll be able to receive notifications when your personal info lands in Google’s search results. If you’d rather not have all those private details floating around right now, however, then it’s time to take action. But what, exactly, are your next steps?
Once the new alerts become available, Google will send a notification when your private details appear in search, and you can request its removal directly in the Results About You tool. Yet even without receiving an alert about your personal information appearing online, you can still delete yourself from Google search. Bonus: The process is dead simple.
In the Google app, or on a computer or mobile web browser, you can request that Google remove a piece of information manually within the search results. Let’s say you searched for your name (or something else related to you) and want a result removed, click the three vertical dots next to it. At the bottom, you’ll see a button that says “Remove result.” Click on it and follow the instructions to submit a removal request to Google. If and when Google approves the request, this specific information will no longer be readily accessible to anyone who conducts a search.
Empowering privacy in a digital world
With this coming update, Google’s Results About You feature will become an even more powerful tool for enhancing privacy and giving people more control over their personal information. In a world where digital security and privacy are increasing concerns for average internet users, this feature is an invaluable and easy-to-use weapon against cybercriminals and online snoops.
By alerting you to the presence of your private information online, Google’s Results About You will enable you to more easily remove unwanted details. Furthermore (and just as important), it can give you some extra peace of mind when navigating today’s vast and often unpredictable digital landscape.
Privacy is important to me, so I’ve used Google’s Results About You feature to keep tabs on my online presence, making it just a little easier to safeguard my personal information in the online realm. And with the upcoming alerts feature, it will be even easier to do so.
- Google: “New privacy tools to help you stay safe and in control online”