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There are only a handful of content categories that Google will not display in its search results. Now the list has grown slightly with the addition of personal medical records, specifically, the ‘confidential, personal medical records of private people.’
The update to its policy was made yesterday, with medical records joining national identification numbers such as Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, images of signatures, sexual abuse images, revenge porn, and material that has been uploaded to the Internet in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Google’s indexing system captures all publicly accessible information that has been uploaded to the Internet, although there has been criticism in recent years about the types of information Google allows to be listed. Even so, it is rare for Google to make changes to its algorithms to block certain types of content. The last addition to the list of material that can be removed automatically by Google was revenge porn – nude or sexually explicit images that have been uploaded to the Internet without an individual’s consent. Google added that category to its list of unacceptable web content back in 2015.
The latest addition will go some way toward protecting the privacy of individuals who have been the victims of data breaches or data leaks. One notable case of the latter came to light in December last year when an Indian pathology lab accidentally uploaded the pathology results of 43,203 individuals to a website which was indexed by Google and displayed in the search listings. Recently there have been a number of cases of stolen medical records being dumped online when ransom demands have not been paid. In such cases, the information will now be less visible.
If medical records are uploaded to the Internet, accidentally or deliberately, they will still be accessible directly and will be indexed by other search engines, but since more than 77% of people use Google as their primary search engine, it will be harder for the medical records to be found online by the general public.