Google last week acknowledged to PhoneNews.com a data breach had occured through their Webmaster Tools section. A Google Labs tool, Author Stats, was responsible for the breach. The breach resulted in very sensitive data about the competitive landscape of web sites to be released.
PhoneNews.com discovered the breach, and informed Google, who thanked PhoneNews.com and took the tool offline. We reschedueled our report until we could confirm that the tool was fully offline.
Specifically, the Author Stats tool provided users that used Google’s authorship metadata to have individual information about how many people viewed, and interacted with the articles that they personally wrote. The service provided authors with information about how many people were using their articles, and publishers with better visibility on Google. For Google, the service bridges the public web with its own Google+ social network service, and provides a clear competitive advantage against Facebook, which lacks search engine capabilities for the web.
However, the Author Stats tool had gone haywire, and began spewing out information that it shouldn’t. When we began seriously analyzing our own Author Stats at PhoneNews.com… we found the data breach. While we could see Author Stats data, we started noticing Author Stats data for our competitors, were appearing on our own results.
Instantly, we knew the stats of the vast majority of our competitors… who were doing well, and who were not.
After serious internal considerations, PhoneNews.com has decided, at this time, not to publish the data that we obtained from the Author Stats tool. While it would free us of the burden of having this sensitive information, it would also hurt our colleagues in the business… many of whom we found aren’t doing as well as they may boast about.
Last year, Google closed its main Google Labs site. CEO and co-founder Larry Page stated at the time that he wanted Google to focus on its more profitable projects, and spend less time on numerous experiments, many of which had questionable value. The decision was hailed by many, as fears persisted that Google would expand too far, too fast, similar to its older rivals. However, Google announced at the same time that each Google service would still be able to offer Labs, such as Google Maps Labs and Gmail Labs. Author Stats was similarly contained in the Webmaster Tools Labs.
Prior to finding this breach, Google had declined to offer press credentials to PhoneNews.com for its Google I/O conference, for the third year in a row. As a result, per our long-standing policy, PhoneNews.com will not be providing coverage of Google I/O.