Several thousand users of Google's Local Business Center (LBC) were recently surprised to find that they had received confidential LBC analytics information from other LBC users.
Google sends out a monthly newsletter to its LBC users that includes product news and Web traffic statistics related to users' business search listings. As a result of an employee's mistake, several thousand newsletter recipients received statistics for other people's businesses.
No sensitive personal information was disclosed, a Google spokesperson said. Exposed data consisted of the number of times the account owner's LBC listing appeared in Google local search results, the number of times searchers clicked on the listing and the associated Web site, and the number of clicks seeking further information and driving directions.
"Shortly after sending the newsletter to a small portion of our users (less than 1%), we discovered that some e-mails included incorrect business listing information," a Google spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement. We promptly stopped sending any further e-mails and investigated the cause, which we found to be a human error while pulling together the newsletter content. We'd like to apologize to all the business owners affected and assure all our users that we're working hard to ensure that nothing similar will happen again. Those affected should have all received a corrected e-mail."
Google LBC users like David Dalka, a business development and online marketing strategy strategy consultant, reported receiving one of the errant e-mail messages and suggested that the incident could harm users' trust of Google. "If the Google Local Business Results were sent to many people, this could likely be as serious as the AOL data breach," he wrote.
AOL's 2006 breach exposed about 20 million search terms and phrases used by 658,000 of its subscribers, so it's not that serious, but it's nonetheless embarrassing and something that Google doesn't want to repeat. The company is exploring ways to automate its newsletter to remove the potential for mistakes of this sort.
Last September, Google was sued by Wyoming-based Rocky Mountain Bank because of human error. A bank employee sent a Gmail message with confidential information to an unintended recipient. The bank then filed a lawsuit, which it later dropped, to force Google to the identify of the Gmail user who had received its information.