“Think before you click” may have been forgotten by the group administrators of Japanese officials who are using Google Groups. Instead of exclusive access to members only, the online group discussions of various government offices were kept on the default setting, which allows anyone on theinternet to have open access. Settings have already been properly changed, but some information had already been made for public viewing, including conversations with Norwegian and Swiss agencies.
The Ministry of Environment admitted to be one of the government offices that have kept the default setting on their Google Groups. Using the Google service allows members of the ministry to have access to information without location and time restriction. Information available in the ministry’s Google Groups include transcript of conversations with other agencies. Even information on international mercury trade negotiations, where a treaty might be signed this autumn, was uploaded. “It was problematic that the processes around ongoing negotiations could be seen by outsiders. We have taken corrective steps,” said the spokesman of the Ministry of Environment. The officials also said that information available in the group was at least not top-secret, but confessed that they should remain confidential.
The Google Groups privacy setting is used to limit access and members, among others. With the default settings, a group allows anyone to have access to the members involved, their conversation, and loaded files. Access is available either by email or by direct log-in to Google Groups’ website. Besides government agencies, hospitals and schools have also availed the web service. Patients and students’ information were also said to have been uploaded.