Google Will Honor Requests To Remove “Revenge Porn” From Search Results

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In a brief blog post released today, Google said that it will soon introduce a formal process that will allow web users to request removal of “revenge porn” images from Google’s search engine. “Revenge porn” is a term that’s used to refer to images that someone uses to publicly humiliate another person – for example, an ex-partner who decides to post private images after a breakup. In other cases, the “revenge porn” may refer to images hackers have stolen and distributed from victims’ accounts, Google says.

That more broad definition could encompass things like the iCloud celebrity photo hack or the Snapchat hack referred to as the “Snappening.”

In addition to the psychological impacts that come from this type of abuse, some of these images are also used by attackers who then exploit victims by asking them to pay for the images’ removal from a website.

Google notes that in many of these cases, the victims of “revenge porn” attacks are women:

Our philosophy has always been that Search should reflect the whole web. But revenge porn images are intensely personal and emotionally damaging, and serve only to degrade the victims—predominantly women. So going forward, we’ll honor requests from people to remove nude or sexually explicit images shared without their consent from Google Search results. This is a narrow and limited policy, similar to how we treat removal requests for other highly sensitive personal information, such as bank account numbers and signatures, that may surface in our search results.

The company says that it plans to introduce a web form that people will be able to use to submit takedown requests related to revenge porn in the “coming weeks.” While no exact date was provided, the search giant said that it would update the blog post with that link when it becomes available.

Of course, pulling the images from Google Search isn’t the same thing as getting them pulled down from the web – Google doesn’t have control over the websites that host the images. That means that people who have a direct link to the harmful images could still view them. However,  it does mean that the images won’t be as easy to find – that is, you won’t be able to just type in some search terms and be pointed their way.

The move to offer this removal service follows a related ruling regarding the “right to be forgotten” which allows European users to request the removal of links associated with their name. But until now, U.S. users didn’t have much recourse when it came to asking Google to take down private images when they showed up online.

Google is not the first company to deal with the problems associated with revenge porn – these sorts of images have infested online social communities in recent years as well. For instance, Reddit was ground zero for the celebrity photo hack, which prompted the service to update its policy in order to protect against similar events in the future. And Twitter, which has deal with its fair share of abuse with scandals like #gamergate, also recently updated its rules to ban revenge porn.  

The U.S. states are also handling revenge porn lawsuits as well. In April, for instance, a San Diego man and operator of a revenge porn website was sentenced to 18 years in jail.

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