Alphabet Inc.’s Google has quietly started removing a new category of online content – personal medical records – from its search results, a departure from its typically hands-off approach to policing the web.
Google lists the information it removes from its search results on its policy page. On Thursday, the website added the line: “confidential, personal medical records of private people.” A Google spokeswoman on Friday said that such information is only pulled when the company gets specific requests from individuals.
Previously, Google had only removed webpages with identifying financial information, such as credit card numbers, and with content that violates copyright laws. In 2015, Google bent its longstanding laissez-faire policy by adding “revenge porn” to its removal list – sexually explicit images uploaded without consent. The same approach applies with all these categories: Google will remove information after considering specific requests.
Health records can also appear online without consent. In December, a pathology lab in India mistakenly uploaded the records of over 43,000 patients containing sensitive information, including names and blood tests for HIV. The records were indexed in Google’s search results.
Google has also recently adjusted its tightly-held search ranking system to filter misleading articles, or fake news, following criticism for hosting and promoting the content in results.