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Medical records will no longer appear in Google search results

(Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Google just went under the knife with its removal policies.

On Thursday, the search engine added private medical records to its small list of things that it won’t include in its search results, according to Bloomberg. While the company has yet to release a statement on the decision, “confidential, personal medical records of private people” is now listed under the search engine’s Removal Policies page, which confirms the decision.

Credit card numbers, images of signatures and bank account numbers are some of the other select things Google elects to keep out of its search results to prevent identity theft. The company usually doesn’t remove dates of birth, addresses and telephone numbers but will do so depending upon the situation, according to its removal policies

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“In the medical space, though, there is nothing more invasive towards one’s privacy than having a medical record indexed in a Google search that millions of people can see,” said Hemu Nigam, the chief executive of SSP Blue, a company that specializes in cybersecurity affairs. “This is a great move, but why did it take so long?”

Health records can show up on the Internet without patients’ consent. According to Bloomberg, in December, an Indian pathology lab accidentally uploaded the blood test information of 43,000 patients, which included names and HIV test results. Google indexed them all

Google usually takes a hands-off approach with its content. It manually removes URLs on a case-by-case basis if there is a complaint about something that may fall under its removal policies.

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But the search giant has made some adjustments the past few years. In 2015, the company bent its well-established approach and said it would accept requests to remove “revenge porn” — nude images uploaded to the Internet without the subject’s consent — from its search results. Google explained that, although it believes that its search should reflect the entire Web, revenge porn is highly personal and emotionally damaging.

In another move, Google released a set of new tools in April to help combat “fake news,” allowing  users to flag misleading or disrespectful content to help improve search results that come from its algorithm. 

“I think there’s a definite shift happening in Google, albeit very slowly,” Nigam said. “That’s being driven by advertisers who pull their ads when they don’t like certain policies affecting their brand. When customers complain, advertisers listen, and therefore Google listens.”

Google declined to comment for this story.