Google has decided to remove an entire category of search results from its engine, private medical records.
Bloomberg reports that in a change from their usual attitude of collecting as much information as possible, Google has actually chosen to delete data. Specifically, data about private medical records. Google’s policy page lists the information that the search engine removes from it’s results, on Thursday night the line “confidential, personal medical records of private people,” was added. Bloomberg contacted Google for a comment on the issue, a Google spokesperson declined to give a statement but did confirm that the line had been added, but the changes will not affect advertising.
In previous years, Google has only agreed to remove pages that contain identifying financial information, such as credit card numbers or social security numbers, the search engine also removes content that violates certain copyright laws. Google added “revenge porn” to the list of items that the company actively removes from their search results in 2015, ensuring that nude images uploaded without the consent of the person photographed would not appear on their website. Google has now decided to add private medical records to that same list.
Health records are in some cases freely available online without the consent of the individual named in the records, an issue that Google’s new rule addition will hopefully change. In December of last year, an Indian pathology lab accidentally shared the private medical records of over 43,000 patients; these records included sensitive information such as HIV status. The records were indexed by Google’s search engine and could be found with a simple google search.
Google has also promised to alter it’s search engine results when it comes to “fake news” or misleading information, an act that has drawn heavy criticism from those that worry Google may censor material that their parent company, Alphabet Inc., does not find acceptable. In a report published by Sputnik News in 2016, psychologist Robert Epstein claimed that Google was manipulating search results related to then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.