It appears that some government officials in Japan have found themselves scrambling after a Google Groups privacy misstep allowed internal memos to be open and available for anyone to browse at their convenience.
According to the AFP, the incident occurred within the Environmental Ministry. Unaware that the default setting for Google Groups in public (in terms of who can see group content), these officials allowed access to private documents. What exactly did the Japanese government allow to leak? Apparently, the internal memos included details of negotiations for an international mercury trade treaty. The memos also contained exchanges between the Japanese government and that of Switzerland and Norway.
When creating a Google Group, one of the first steps in selecting the group’s basic permissions. The default setting with any new Google Group is that anyone can view its content. Of course, with a few clicks, you can turn your group private – but apparently this default setting has been tripping up people in the Japanese government.
According to a spokesperson for the Environment Ministry, the memos were not “top secret” – but they definitely weren’t supposed to be made public either.
The AFP quotes the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, who claims that through its investigations, it discovered over 6,000 cases of governmental information being make public in this manner. This includes hospital records, education records, and even lists of political donors.
Strangely enough, Yomiuri Shimbun also admitted that its own journalists had been fooled by Google Groups’ default privacy settings – exposing not-yet-published stories.
Now, imagine that.