Privacy Breach Hits Google Docs
Article by George Norman
On 09 Mar 2009
When you post your documents to Google Docs and decide not to share them with anyone else, you would expect your privacy to be respected by the Mountain View search engine giant. Well, things don’t always go smoothly over at Google (proof of that is the This Site May Harm Your Computer incident and the Gmail outage), and this time a problem has hit Google Docs – and by problem I mean the text documents of some users were unintentionally shared online.

According to Google, the privacy glitch is limited to about 0.05% of its Google Docs users, and on top of that, the files where not shared with the whole web, just with collaborators or people you’ve previously shared documents with. I fail to see how that’s of any comfort – it doesn’t really matter how few a people were affected, a slipup is a slipup no matter what. And a privacy breach is just as bad, no matter if one has previously shared documents before with other people – there must have been some reason why these files were not shared with other, right?

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The ones to point the finger at Google for not properly protecting the users’ privacy are the guys over at TechCrunch, who have also published the letter sent out by Google to the users affected by this latest glitch. Here is what Google had to say on the incident:

“Dear Google Docs user,
We wanted to let you know about a recent issue with your Google Docs account. We’ve identified and fixed a bug which may have caused you to share some of your documents without your knowledge. This inadvertent sharing was limited to people with whom you, or a collaborator with sharing rights, had previously shared a document. The issue only occurred if you, or a collaborator with sharing rights, selected multiple documents and presentations from the documents list and changed the sharing permissions. This issue affected documents and presentations, but not spreadsheets.

To help remedy this issue, we have used an automated process to remove collaborators and viewers from the documents that we identified as being affected. Since the impacted documents are now accessible only to you, you will need to re-share the documents manually. For your reference, we’ve listed below the documents identified as being affected.

We apologize for the inconvenience that this issue may have caused. We want to assure you that we are treating this issue with the highest priority.

The Google Docs Team”

Here is one other thing to fuel your Google mistrust. It has been mentioned previously that only 0.0.5% of Google Docs users were affected by the error. That is a low figure as far as percentages go, but what I am curious about is how many Google Docs users are out there?



Tags: Google, Google Docs
About the author: George Norman
George is a news editor.
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