Google blames 'human error' for data leak

The company is apologizing to some users of its business listings service

Google is apologizing after it mistakenly e-mailed potentially sensitive business data last week to other users of its business listings service.

The company's Local Business Center allows businesses to create a listing for Google's search engine and Maps application, as well as add videos, coupons or photos.

Google then provides data on how customers found the listing, showing search terms people used before clicking the listing and other data such as the geographic location of someone who looked up driving directions to the business.

Google will send reports to those who are signed up. Early last week, Google sent the reports to third parties by mistake. The mistake affected several thousands businesses registered with Local Business Center, of which there are more than a million.

"Shortly after sending the newsletter to a portion of our users last night, we discovered that some e-mails included statistics for the wrong business," Google said in a written 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 impacted and assure them that we're fixing the process that led to this mistake."

People who received the data then began to publicize the incident, realizing the privacy implications. Chicago-based Internet consultant David Dalka wrote on his blog that he received information regarding the listing for Boscos, a restaurant in Tennessee that brews its own beer.

"My first thought was this was potentially some kind of joke by someone at Google due to the subject matter resolving to beer, which has a long history of pranks in SEO [search engine optimization] circles," Dalka wrote.

The data included the number of times Boscos' listing appeared in Google's local search results, the number of times it had been clicked on and the number of follow-through clicks on the actual business' Web site.

Tags data leaksGoogle

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Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service

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