Have you ever pondered on the type of personal information that search giant Google indexes? Perhaps you haven’t? Here’s some food for thought – Google has silently altered its search engine indexing to exclude medical data. Why is that a big deal? When you think about it, the fact that Google is now removing this type of data from search results means that the very same type of data was there to be found.
As highlighted by Sophos’ John E Dunn, this is indeed a “deceptively straightforward change” described by the company in a single line of text buried in its data removal policy page. A page that is most certainly not visited by most users of Google.
Types of Information Excluded by Google in Search Results
In addition to medical data, Google also excludes social security, bank and credit card data, images of signatures, national identification numbers like U.S. Social Security Number, nude or sexually explicit images that were uploaded or shared without users’ consent. What Google fails to explain is how it is going to remove this type of medical data from search results. In Google’s own words, “we want to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible, but there are a few instances where we will remove content from Search”. Is Google actually admitting that indexing all kinds of information has its negative impact?
There are way too many instances of why keeping healthcare data public and accessible is a very bad idea. Leaked or stolen medical information had already made the headlines on multiple occasions.
Data breaches that affect the healthcare sector are a huge privacy and security catastrophe. As outlined by Dr. Mansur Hasib in an interview, the worst breach in healthcare so far was at Anthem (the Anthem medical data breach that took place in 2015) where over 80 million records (including his own) were breached!
Breached data may even end up being indexed by search engines, depending on the circumstances surrounding the data breach. Furthermore, there are other instances where medical data is left unsecured, not encrypted, or easily accessible via the Internet. This information can be indexed by Google and other search engines, and this is indeed the issue Google is attempting to fix.
Google’s algorithms are frequently adjusted but Google admitting that its search engine has been changed is something you don’t witness very often. In other words, even though the crawling done by the engine may be explainable as is what comes out as search results, what happens between the two is a mostly a well-kept trade secret.