Google Fumble Lets Students Read One Anothers’ Mail

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Due to a glitch in Google’s email setup, students from colleges with mail for students provided by Google were able to read one anothers’ email, with full access to other users’ inboxes in some cases.

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The Brown Daily Herald is carrying the story (in an article headed “Blunders in email transfer”) that students at the prestigious university encountered problems soon after Google migrated inboxes from Exchange servers to Google’s own Gmail platform. Of course, the error itself, while bad, isn’t all that tragic.

The bug itself took about three days to track down and fix, which, while a very long time to be without reliable mail, may well have been unavoidable. Brown doesn’t seem to have taken issue with the time, but has gone a little further than the questions of privacy and security raised. Apparently, the manner in which Google responded to the issue leaves a little something to be desired in terms of openness.

According to the New York Times, those students encountering issues informed the college’s Computing and Information Services department that something was amiss. The department then began some simple checking to see just how widespread the issue was.

Google’s response was realtively simple, in that it simply moved in and suspended all of the accounts that were able to see other users’ mail (some 22 of 200 accounts migrated to Gmail). Of course, it leaves a little to be desired in that it, apparently, didn’t inform anyone that it had taken the measure to defend users’ privacy.

While there may have been nothing untoward going on in this case, it serves as a clear reminder of the power that Google has in situations like this to simply freeze users’ accounts. It’s enough to make you wonder just how close it holds the “don’t be evil” motto… it’s been a while since we heard it from Google itself.

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