Japan’s Ministry of the Environment learned about Google privacy settings the hard way. It seems a Japanese official created a Google Group to share emails and documents regarding international treaty negotiations but forgot to change the default privacy setting, leaving the information completely open to the public and search engines for months.

One Japanese official said the majority of the information wasn’t secret. Japan removed the information anyway, but not before the largest Japanese newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, reported on more than 6,000 items being publicly available in the Google Group. 

The documents pertained to the Minamata Convention, a meeting intent on establishing international limits on mercury use. It also contained the private contact information of Japanese officials.   

Japan’s own system for creating groups and sharing documents doesn’t always work well outside of Japan, so the Ministry turned to Google Groups. A larger investigation by Yomiuri Shimbun found that Japanese high schools, health organizations and political parties had all compromised private data by using public Google Groups.

The ministry has assembled a security group to investigate the security breach. 

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