Google today admitted to a potentially serious error in its Docs sharing system. While only .05% of all shared documents were affected, the potential for serious damage was significant for businesses.
The error amounted to wrongly sharing Google documents with someone "whom you, or a collaborator with sharing rights, had previously shared a document". The entire email from Google to Apps administrators is posted below.
It isn't hard to imagine how this could become a serious issue. For instance, it is common for people to share documents with their whole company. Imagine if you are writing a job description for someone who is going to be replaced soon. If the person to be replaced suddenly had access to and read that document, the company would be in deep trouble. Or what if the CFO has employee salaries and contracts in Docs (Google Spreadsheets weren't affected though some presentations were).
"The new guy is making double your salary?!"
It goes on from there.
Google took immediate action when it found out about the error by stripping all sharing privileges on the affected documents and sending an email to the affected users telling them that they would need to re-share the documents.
None of the companies I work for nor my personal documents were affected, however, and it seems that an extremely small percentage of users that were (1 out of 2000) affected. Even those that were affected probably didn't have their documents shared long enough for preying eyes to gleen any unintended information.
That doesn't mean this incident should be glossed over ... not by cloud customers and especially not by Google, Microsoft, Zoho, Zimbra or any of the other cloud vendors out there.
This is just one of many reasons businesses that are moving to cloud services should be wary of the issues that can come up that were'n't there before. While cloud computing does solve a lot of business IT issues, others can pop up without any warning.
No one ever said IT was easy.
The email from Google:
Dear Google Docs user,Bonus: have a look at this episode of "To Tell the Truth" from 2001:
We wanted to let you know about a recent issue with your Google Docs account. Weve 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, had previously shared a document. 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.
To help remedy this issue, we have 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, weve 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.
The Google Docs Team