May 23, 2017

School Finds Out It's Not Google's Fault

A snafu between Google and a North Carolina school brought with it some valuable lessons: spiders can’t type passwords; Google crawls so deep only reporters can find it; you should double check your security; and everyone likes a judge with a funny name.

Judge Richard. D. Boner (stop it) granted a temporary injunction against Google after the search engine crawled and indexed Catawba County Schools’ webpages containing the names, social security numbers, and test scores of 619 7th and 8th grade students.

Despite the school’s “very secure systems” that are password protected, Google spiders were able to get into pages stored on the school’s DocuShare servers. Once the school realized that student identity information was viewable on the Web, they tried for days to reach Google, but to no avail.

In a statement to Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Watch, it is revealed that it took media and a court order to get the search giants attention:

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 -sic– which we did but got no response. Google has a link to submit an emergency request but on both Thursday and Friday of last week, the link took you to a dead page. Only when the news media submitted its own inquiry to Google did we get a call regarding the situation. And -Google- has been most helpful in working through this situation with us.

More controversy was added to the situation after some sources reported that Google spiders had “hacked” the school system’s server to index the information. But both the school’s chief technology officer and Google (and a few others with the skinny on how this works) say that Google crawlers cannot bypass password protection to access and cache content.

In short, it’s most likely the school’s error and if lawsuits ensue from the parents of affected students, Catawba County Schools Superintendent Tim Markley will likely be making the same face he’s making in this photo (nice shot, Hickory Record! Can you guess which word he’s trying to say?).

As for Judge Richard D. Boner (seriously, grow up), it’s nice he was able to penetrate Google’s silence. Google removed all of the pages in question from its index and the information is no longer accessible.

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