Privacy Problems at Google Stir Fear in the Cloud

Ralph DeFrangesco

This week Google announced to users of its Google Docs service that they may have inadvertently shared some of their documents without their knowledge.


According to a note by Google quoted on TechCrunch:


"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."


Google has since fixed the problem and said that it only affected 5 percent of the documents stored on the site. All affected users were sent the following letter:

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, selected multiple documents and presentations from the document list and changed the sharing permissions. This issue affected documents and presentations, but not spreadsheets. To help remedy this issue, we 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.

Google wants to be a player in cloud technology. I can understand: the cloud will play a major role in the next iteration of computing technology. Today it's not a matter of if,but when problems happen, how will a company respond?


As a consultant, this has affected me professionally. I have recommended Google Docs to a few smaller clients that could not afford the Microsoft solution. Fortunately, none were affected, but I did get a few calls.


I think that Google needs to do a better job at jumping on things like this quickly and get them resolved. How can we trust the cloud? It starts by having confidence in the companies that are managing their applications -- and our data -- in the cloud.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Mar 13, 2009 4:29 AM Hank Hank  says:

I personally am not afraid of putting things into the cloud. I find it helpful to use google docs so I can access my files when I travel. I never put anything that I am afraid to let anyone else see out there. As far as work, as long as you don't put anything along the nature of IP out there, then why be afraid?


Mar 14, 2009 2:53 AM john john  says:

Hi Ralph,

Thank you for pointing out some of the critical issues surrounding the adoption of SaaS -- especially for business.

However, even individuals need to think twice about to whom they entrust their vital information.  Many folks for example would not be pleased to know that Google has said in court that "Privacy Does Not Exist", or that gmail outages and glitches have lost emails and deprived people of their email docs without recourse or explanation.

It's also interesting that so few take note of Google's dropping "do no evil" from their corporate mission, or that they are, in fact, a giant advertising company that happens to use technology as a medium -- that is if you define a company by how they make their money.

No doubt they make some great software, but there are other options and folks need to check out the great work done by smaller companies that sometime get lost in the google media engine.

Here's an interesting press release on the topic from an open source spreadsheet vendor:


Mar 14, 2009 9:36 AM Ralph DeFrangesco Ralph DeFrangesco  says: in response to Hank


From a personal perspective, I agree. I don't put private data out in the cloud either. However, the Google issue really addresses businesses using the cloud. How do you choose what files to put out there? Do you review every document before it gets saved in the cloud? Then it becomes a monitoring nightmare for companies. These are some of the issues that companies that are using the cloud have to contend with.


Mar 14, 2009 10:27 AM Ralph DeFrangesco Ralph DeFrangesco  says: in response to john


Thank you for taking the time to respond. If I were putting vital information in the cloud, I would agree with you. However, as I stated I do not store personal information on computers that I do not own or manage, so I would not be upset if it were made public. I am not that worried about privacy in this case. However, I can appreciate it in regards to organizations needing it.

I agree with you as far as other companies selling cloud applications besides Google. I tend to blog about the more well known companies, but you are right in saying there are other solutions. I will work harder to blog about the "smaller guy" in the future and hopefully it will bring a more rounded view. I don't have all of the answers and I truly value your input.



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