Google Docs Privacy Glitch Accidentally Shares Documents

    March 9, 2009
    Chris Crum

Google DocsOn Friday Google contacted some Google Docs users to alert them of a privacy issue. Less than 0.05% of user docs were accidentally shared with people with whom they were not supposed to be. 

Google then followed up with a blog post about the issue in the "interest of transparency." Google Docs Product Manager Jennifer Mazzon explains the issue:

Jennifer Mazzon - Google Docs Product ManagerAs we noted in the Google Docs Help Forum yesterday, we’ve identified and fixed a bug where a very small percentage of users shared some of their documents inadvertently. The inadvertent sharing was limited to people with whom the document owner, or a collaborator with sharing rights, had previously shared a document. The issue affected so few users because it only could have occurred for a very small percentage of documents, and for those documents only when a specific sequence of user actions took place.

For this small percentage of documents, the bug (now fixed) occurred when the document owner, or a collaborator with sharing rights, selected multiple documents and presentations from the documents list and then changed the sharing permissions. The bug did not affect spreadsheets.

Naturally privacy advocates are riled up about this. It doesn’t paint a great future for cloud computing in general either. It’s not been a common problem thus far, but it highlights the issues that exist.

"Online software privacy breaches have been very rare," notes Jessica E. Vascellaro at the Wall Street Journal. "Outages or other reliability issues are slightly more common problems." Google itself has had a couple outage issues with Gmail in recent memory, despite the company’s 99.9% uptime guarantee

Mazzon says that Google understands the concerns of users regarding privacy, and that even Google itself was affected by the bug. "We’re treating this very seriously," she says.