Google Docs Security Seriously Compromised?

September 20, 2007 2 min read

I don’t consider myself a geek, but I’m always intrigued by new technologies, products, and ideas. I can’t hold on my curiosity, I have to try new things. When Google released a new service called Google Docs based on Writely, claiming to have a sort of online alternative to Microsoft Office, I immediately opened an account and started playing with their word processor. I used Google Docs mostly as a notepad for my blog posts. It has the great advantage of allowing me to write from the office and then continue from home without having to change any settings on my computer or the network. Despite these advantages, after some time I considered abandoning the Google environment because I was still finding the word processor too primitive even as simple notepad.

On September 17 Google officially announced a new feature for Google Docs, a sort of online PowerPoint clone. I immediately logged in to my Google account to try the new tool. On the Google Docs page I noticed something unusual: the list of documents I created included a few unknown items. The first three documents, pictured above, were not mine, nor were they shared with me by someone else. Opening them, I found them to be written in Italian (my primary language) but absolutely not something I could have created. They seem to be written by someone in the book publishing business, obviously an Italian. A very wild guess is that the documents were created by someone from Fernando Folini Production, a minor Italian publisher with no relationship with me, although our surnames are the same. But this this is just a guess.

Someone wrote a document with Google Docs, didn’t share it (as you can see on the picture), and Google misplaced the document assigning the document to a different user (me) instead of the correct author’s directory. I wonder if there is an author out there who is missing a document?  This is exactly the kind of breach of security that you absolutely don’t want to happen with your personal or business documents. Before putting anything more on Google Docs, I would like to know the origin of this problem. I leave the comments to my blog readers.

Franco Folini

From Google Docs Help pages
What measures is Google taking to protect the privacy & security of my content?

Rest assured that your documents, spreadsheets and presentations will remain private unless you publish them to the Web or invite collaborators and/or viewers. Once you’re logged in, you can grant access to whomever you’d like. Until then, your documents, spreadsheets and presentations are private.

UPDATE September 22, 2007
I ran a Google search with some of the sentences in my more foreign documents and I found that they came from an Italian library, the Biblioteca Giuridico Economica Giovanni Ghirotti, located in Cesena. No relationship with me, I didn’t even know this library existed before running the Google search.

Franco Folini
Franco Folini

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