The internet today offers us more advantages and facilities than we imagined only years ago. However, sometimes we tend to forget that it has its pitfalls. One of the most harmful — or should I say disturbing — practices plaguing the internet is the non-consensual data sharing of others. Having personal information, like your phone number, address, or email, published in places where you don’t want it to be can undoubtedly not only invade your privacy, but also harm your online reputation.
That is only half of the problem, though. The fact that anyone today can publish misleading and defamatory information about you, makes the process of reputation management more complex. It’s easier to publish something that damages your online reputation without a need to prove authenticity, and a lot harder to get it removed. Being the primary search engine, Google and its algorithms are naturally a part of the issue.
Well, fortunately, Google is now showing commitment to becoming a part of the solution as well. The company has recently launched a new tool called “Results About You” that allows users to request the removal of personal information, or false information regarding them, from Google search results. We’re talking about a Beta version right now, operating only in certain regions, but this is certainly a game changer, in terms of how you can maintain your online reputation management (ORM) by yourself, without assistance from an ORM specialist or firm.
Google is stepping up its game with the new online reputation management feature
Google first announced the “Results About You” feature in May 2022, and within a span of just 3–4 months, it has officially gone live for USA residents.
With this new tool, you can now request Google to remove a search result showing personal details about you — if they are posted without your consent, intended to harm you, contain illegal information, or are outdated.The process is also straightforward, with the goal of making sure that everyone has access to this tool. You click on the three dots on the right corner of that search result and select the “Remove result” option from the menu. More importantly, you have the ability to conveniently track the status of your request, checking whether it is still in progress or approved/rejected.
While this is seen as a game-changer in the online reputation management community, it is not actually a precedent. In 2014, Google officially enabled the removal of personal information in the EU, as part of the ‘right to be forgotten’ act. However, while the ‘right to be forgotten’ feature was basically forced upon Google by the authorities, the “Results About You” is certainly Alphabet’s way of initiating a solution to the problem, and not just being coerced into responding to it.
Another supplemental tool currently in the making is upcoming “proactive alerts”. This feature will send notifications to users if their personal information is spotted in search results. The alerts will definitely be quite handy, considering no one can keep constant track of all Google results containing their personal info at all times.
Having said that, the combo of these two features — Result-removal requests & timely alerts — would make this whole upgrade much more optimal for managing your online reputation. Once you know if, when and where information is published about you online, it is much easier to react to it — whether it is positive information, good for your ORM efforts, or negative.
Protection against doxing — crucial to your online reputation management efforts
The basic idea behind Google’s newly launched feature is to guard users against doxing attempts. For those who are not familiar with tech-talk, doxing is the act of publishing and distributing information about someone without their consent (usually with malicious intent). In the past, one would have to go through a long and tiring process of trying to contact Google and demand the removal of the information — a process which would sometimes require turning to courthouses and providing proof that such information is indeed false and defamatory, with all the expenses involved in that — things are supposed to get much simpler.
Many statistics also reiterate the increased prevalence of doxing. A Pew Internet study conducted in 2017 stipulated that there’s been an increase in online harassment, including doxing, compared to its prior 2014 analysis data, with some 41% of U.S. adults experiencing harassment. Now, imagine the number of cases that roll onto Google’s doorstep. So far, they haven’t shown a lot of willingness to actively deal with these issues. Perhaps this tool can be a good (albeit way too late) start.
Google’s “Results about you” is a move forward from its previously introduced ORM tools
You might be thinking that Google is pretty late to address this issue despite being a technological giant with a monumental sway worldwide. But note that it’s not the first time Google has come forward with some data removal options to alleviate user-reputation concerns.
Even before the release of the “Results about you” feature, the company offered some online protection tools related to different problems. For example, Google allows users to request the removal of their sensitive banking details from search results had they been published online. Also, the platform permits people under 18 or their parents to request the deletion of their photos from Google search results. Moreover, there are also other protections in place, as per which users can request to discard any explicit non-consensual imagery involving them.
There are two main aspects to emphasize in terms of difference here. The first one is the process, which I’ve discussed the need to make much more accessible. The second one is the potential of aiding people and even businesses in controlling how they appear online. That’s why it is imperative for anyone in the ORM field to assess this tool, follow its development and understand how it can be deployed as part of the holistic ORM strategy.
Now, do you want to appear in the search results? Google has covered this too!
On the other side of the coin, Google also puts forward a feature called “People Cards” for people or organizations who want an online presence and desire to have control over the information (appearing in Google results) related to them. Let’s emphasize here that these cards are different from “knowledge panels” that we all know. Instead, people cards are specifically designed for literally anyone (or anything) who wants to be identified on a Google search, with their personally-entered details. Currently, this tool is only accessible if you reside in India and African countries, though it might be extended to other regions soon.
Let’s not be naive here. Google understands the challenges of this technological era & is accordingly leveling up its strategies to not let go of its global hegemony. Google is not looking first and foremost to help you boost your online presence and tilt it in your favor. However, this doesn’t mean that you cannot use it in favor of your ORM efforts. Once again, this is a Beta version we are talking about, but just think about the potential of this card, which catches a prominent spot on Google searches.