Japan Provides Best Reminder Yet to Check Your Google Privacy Settings

Everybody's done it. You upload some potentially incriminating photos to the internet, forget to uncheck a box or two in the privacy settings, and the next thing you know your mom is staring at pictures of your friends doing bong rips. It's a funny mistake to make—until it becomes a matter of public safety.

That's exactly what happened recently in Japan, where at least six government agencies misunderstood the privacy settings in Google Groups and inadvertently leaked loads of data. The Yomiuri Shimbun, the world's biggest newspaper in terms of circulation, just published the findings of an investigation that found over 6,000 cases of Japanese officials inadvertently making information available to the public due to insufficient privacy controls.

One of the more egregious cases came from the environment ministry who publicly published its planned talking points for negotiations on an international mercury trade treaty with Switzerland and Norway. But at least they're being honest about their stupid mistake. "It was problematic that the processes around ongoing negotiations could be seen by outsiders," an environment ministry spokesperson told the AFP. "We have taken corrective steps."

This would be a big hilarious, victorious scoop for The Yomiuri—"Stupid Government Agencies Do Stupid Thing"—except the paper discovered that its own journalists had made the same mistake. By relying on the default privacy settings in Google Groups, the journalists made transcripts of interviews and drafts of unpublished articles available for anybody to read online. All things default to public in Google Groups, so any snooper just needed to know where to look. It could've been a lot worse for the Japanese, though. While their privacy setting fumble revealed some bureaucratic meanderings, a British woman recently outed her husband as head of the MI6 intelligence agency with a misplaced Facebook posting.

So let this be a lesson to you: Pay attention to your privacy settings! Even if something appears to be private online, as Google Groups do, it doesn't mean that they're actually private. [AFP]

Image by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock