June 27, 2006

Google Catawba County indexing of password-protected student information story

I did a bit of investigation on the "story about how the Catawba County Schools in North Carolina has gained a temporary injunction":

... for "Google to remove any information pertaining to Catawba County Schools Board of Education from its server and index and alleges conversion and trespass against the corporation." The school blames Google for some how getting into a password protected area and indexing the content.

I didn't find anything more than the general information that is outlined in the SearchEngineWatch article above. There's a server, it has password-protected pages, it's not clear how Google crawled it.

Just speculating, there might be a flaw in Google's crawler, where in order to be efficient it's keeping login/password credentials in effect over multiple page retrievals, whereas the correct (but much less efficient) behavior would be to re-establish the credentials for each retrieval. So if there was a link with the login/password to a private page on the server, but one without such sensitive data, those credentials might have gotten re-used for other pages with more sensitive data. Again, that's only a theory. But it would explain what the school saw:

We did troubleshoot this situation by searching for the students' information at Yahoo, Dogpile, and AltaVista. We did not find any information on these three search engine returns and we attempted the searches over a three-day period.

So that makes it unlikely that the issue was purely a matter of a misconfigured server, one left open in an area which should have been password-restricted.

More "amusingly":

We acted so aggressively with Google because, until the media got involved, we could not get beyond an operator at Google. We could not get operators to connect us with technical support, the legal department, or to anyone higher up in the organization. We were only given an email address to which we could submit a complain - which we did but got no response. ... Only when the news media submitted its own inquiry to Google did we get a call regarding the situation. ...

It's still who you are that determines if you get heard.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on June 27, 2006 04:48 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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