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Google Voice Mails Found In Public Search Engine 145

Posted by timothy
from the wouldn't-mind-being-able-to-put-some-there dept.
bonch writes "Google Voice Mails have been discovered in Google's search engine, providing audio files, names, and phone number as if you were logged in and checking your own voice mail. Some appear to be test messages, while others are clearly not. Google has since disabled indexing of voice mails outside your own website."
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Google Voice Mails Found In Public Search Engine

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  • by lyquidevil (1579915) on Monday October 19, 2009 @05:58PM (#29800803)
    and dont really care if you do. But bad move google.
    • by martas (1439879)
      yep, they did evil all right...
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        This is user error not google error. The users made these voicemails public and google indexed them. They realize some people may not want them public and indexed outside of their own site and have stopped indexing that location. This is a stupid user error and nothing more.

        Must be a slow news day if the garbage from boy genius report is making it here.

  • User action? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jbohumil (517473) on Monday October 19, 2009 @06:01PM (#29800841)
    This doesn't sound like a bug or leak, more like some users set up links or otherwise made their messages public.
    • Re:User action? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 19, 2009 @06:20PM (#29801037)

      Exactly.

      IMHO, totally a non-issue: google doesn't spider their own service, but if you post links to your voice mail on a public page with a permissive robots.txt, it gets spidered and shows up in search results with them or anyone else.

      I completely get why Google is now removing these from search results -- they must be seen to be fixing this before it blows up as a scandal -- but shouldn't this sort of media panderage qualify as the evil they purportedly "don't be"? You'd think they're big enough to stand up and enlighten morons about robots.txt specifically, and about the general truth that when you post something on the internet, it's there forever.

    • by causality (777677) on Monday October 19, 2009 @06:23PM (#29801071)
      It sounds like something that wouldn't happen if you used commodity PC hardware to set up your own voice mail system. Sure, you could make a similar mistake, but it's less likely considering that no one is as interested in safeguarding your data and privacy as you are. It's difficult to put a dollar amount on it, but maintaining control over your own data and systems is quite valuable all the same. I think it's great that Google wants to make services like these available to people who want them, but I for one won't be jumping on that bandwagon.
      • by Mister Whirly (964219) on Monday October 19, 2009 @06:32PM (#29801171) Homepage
        Why stop there? Set up your own ISP and mail servers also. And screw Youtube, I went there once and it was down so I am setting up my own multi-media server. I also don't trust any commercial Maglock system, so I am setting up my own Maglock server to monitor all the door access as well. So, 18 million dollars later and I can guarantee no down time at all. Of course if 99.999% downtime would have been acceptable, I could have done all of that for free, but I would rather pay the big bucks to ensure that extra .001 % of uptime. Anyone who doesn't spend lots of time and money administering all of their own systems is a sucker!
        • Re:User action? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by geekboy642 (799087) on Monday October 19, 2009 @06:49PM (#29801373) Journal

          You speak facetiously, of course, but spending the time and effort to setup your own email server is a very valuable exercise. And at the end, you get an email account with no limits. Want ridiculously tight spam filters? Easy. Want to send and receive 1GB email attachments? Your insanity can be catered to.

          And best of all, nobody is sitting there watching all of your emails and serving you ads based on what you're emailing about.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Good luck sending those 1GB attachments to anyone else......

            • by lewiscr (3314)

              You can email me. The first thing I do with postfix is add three zeros to every parameter with limit in the name. Then I install postgrey.

              Sure, sending a 1Gig email takes 15 minutes, but what I do I care? Disk space and LAN bandwidth are cheap as dirt. And so few people can send me such a big email that I'm not worried about Internet bandwidth.

              The last place I worked capped emails at 4MB. I couldn't even send one digital photo from my camera, because it was > 4MB after the base64 encoding. I ended

              • by socsoc (1116769)
                Why are you sending digital photos from your camera out of your work email account?
                • Maybe he's working for a graphic design studio, or an advertising agency.
                  • by socsoc (1116769)

                    Oh sure, they always cap emails at 4mb. If that was the case, there must have been a preferred method of moving those files, FTP for instance.

                    He's just another user who wants to disregard the policies that are in place for a reason and start using consumer grade accounts for business which degrades the professionalism of both him and his organization.

                    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                      by lewiscr (3314)

                      The digital photo was an example... I was having a hard time converting 4MB into Library of Congresses in my head.

                      Aside from the occasional office event (work sponsored with a camera), we did send a lot of .zip files. One-off reports, server logs, sample data sets, etc.

                      The preferred method for sending these files was a Windows share drive. Except nobody bothered to tell us that, probably because my satellite office wasn't big enough to get one. The biggest drawback is that Windows Shares don't work very

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            And best of all, nobody is sitting there watching all of your emails and serving you ads based on what you're emailing about.

            Oh noes, teh privacy. Except that if you actually cared, you'd be using PGP for important correspondence. Also, IMAP = no ads. kthxbai

          • by MrCrassic (994046)

            Unless you have a dynamic IP address, where you're still confined to somebody else's mail server for sending email out...

            Setting up a mail server is pretty easy, whether it's a simple IMAP+SMTP server or a much bigger suite, like Zimbra or Exchange. As an added bonus, you gain some skills which are REALLY handy in a business...if that's an end-goal. Finally, because it's most likely a single user system, it's REALLY REALLY fast.

            (After turning off my Exchange server in favor of Google Mail, I realized exactl

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by DusterBar (881355)
            I have had my own server (EMail and other) for a long time (almost 2 decades) and I have to say that with SPAM these days, nothing beats the GMail spam filters. I tell my family that I can forward email to their GMail accounts for spam filtering. They get to use GMail for the client (and imap/pop support from GMail) and get all of the spam filtering support while still controlling our email domain. This works far better than what I could ever support on my own server. (The large community of GMail custo
        • by antifoidulus (807088) on Monday October 19, 2009 @07:18PM (#29801685) Homepage Journal
          if 99.999% downtime would have been acceptable

          Some people have such high standards, I mean jeez the server was functional for 8.64 seconds today, isn't that enough?
        • I'm curious to know how you keep your 100% uptime when the power goes out and your backup power solutions all fail at once. :)
          • Power goes out? You think I would rely on the power company for my precious servers? Hell no. I have my own generators - an array of solar, wind, steam, and diesel. It's all within the 18 million dollar budget.
        • by martas (1439879)
          except, of course, there might be a 0.001% chance that you'll die tomorrow, which means that 100% uptime is wasted anyway.
      • Re:User action? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by DragonWriter (970822) on Monday October 19, 2009 @07:13PM (#29801641)

        It sounds like something that wouldn't happen if you used commodity PC hardware to set up your own voice mail system.

        Yes, if you used commodity PC hardware to set up your own voice mail system, you probably wouldn't have automatic transcription that it would be even theoretically possible for you to directly post your voice mails on the web, so it wouldn't be possible for you to expose information the way you could choose to do with Google Voice.

        OTOH, it would be a lot more expensive for the fewer features you would get, so I'm not sure its all that worth it. It would be easier just to use Google voice and not post your own voice mails.

        Note that all of these emails are emails for which the URLs were posted by the user on a public website, and which were subsequently (and as a result of that posting) crawled and indexed by search engines.

        Oh, noes! Search engines find things that are posted publicly on the internet. The horror!

    • Re:User action? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Monday October 19, 2009 @07:31PM (#29801835)

      This doesn't sound like a bug or leak, more like some users set up links or otherwise made their messages public.

      I can't log into google voice without telling my browser to accept cookies from google. If they are going to use cookie-based authorization, then there is absolutely no excuse for handing out the data within an account to people who don't have the right cookie authorization.

      Even if they don't index it, the URLs are still going to be accessible to anyone who can figure out the URL.
      It appears to be a classic case of security through obscurity.
      Obscurity as an extra layer is fine, but google voice seems to have no layers excepet for obscurity and that's a ridiculous design decision for a company as big a reptuation for technical acumen as google.

      • Re:User action? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Omnifarious (11933) * <eric-slash@omERD ... g minus math_god> on Monday October 19, 2009 @08:16PM (#29802279) Homepage Journal

        The obscurity in this case happens to be a random number that's at least 100 bits long if not a lot longer. Sure I could guess that, but I could guess your 128 bit symmetric cipher key too.

        No, what happened here is that people used this extremely obscure URL to provide public links to their voicemail messages and google happily indexed those links. And, you know, when you publicize links to things, they show up in search engines.

        Now, google could additionally require authorization before letting people have access to those links, but the way you find out what the big long random number is is by clicking on something saying something along the lines of "I want to share this voicemail with someone." which means that you want someone other than yourself to have access to it. Making the link require authorization to get to would completely defeat the purpose of sharing it with someone.

        No, in my opinion, what google should do is have a per-voicemail switch that lets you decide whether or not the public sharable link works or not. Then you can share the link with a friend, and when you want to close up access so your friend can't share the link with their friend or post it on the internet or whatever, you click on the little check box and the link stops working.

        Voicemails that you schedule for deletion should become private by default when they hit the trash can.

        • by Nemyst (1383049)
          A bit like Google Docs then? I'm actually surprised they don't share their design ideas around.
        • The obscurity in this case happens to be a random number that's at least 100 bits long if not a lot longer. Sure I could guess that, but I could guess your 128 bit symmetric cipher key too.

          Don't misdirect. I didn't say one thing about guessing. You presumed it and that's PRECISELY the broken thinking that leads to failures of security like this case - nobody had to guess any of these random numbers, yet here they are for the world to see.

          but the way you find out what the big long random number is is by clicking on something saying something along the lines of "I want to share this voicemail with someone."

          More presumption. There is no such option in google voice - I just checked. Furthermore, it would be silly to do that for the transcriptions of the messages, just copy the actual text and email it to the 'someone' it is being shared with. No one shares r

          • Don't misdirect. I didn't say one thing about guessing. You presumed it and that's PRECISELY the broken thinking that leads to failures of security like this case - nobody had to guess any of these random numbers, yet here they are for the world to see.

            I was responding to the part of your post you said:

            Even if they don't index it, the URLs are still going to be accessible to anyone who can figure out the URL.

            In fact, the whole purpose of those URLs is for people to explicitly share their voicemails with others who may or may not have a google account. People have to go to the voicemail they want to share, click on the appropriate option and then paste the URL into some public forum for the URL to make it into a search engine. There is no 'figuring out the URL'. Google told them what it was specifically so they could make it public if they wanted to.

            More presumption. There is no such option in google voice - I just checked. Furthermore, it would be silly to do that for the transcriptions of the messages, just copy the actual text and email it to the 'someone' it is being shared with. No one shares regular email the way you describe, why would they for text versions of voice-mail, or really, even audio versions, it's not like such a short, low-quality audio recording is too big to send as an attachment.

            There is,

            • I was responding to the part of your post you said:

              Even if they don't index it, the URLs are still going to be accessible to anyone who can figure out the URL.

              Indexing by google isn't the only way for these things to leak. For example, they could be indexed by yahoo, or msn, or just some schmoe who happens upon the wrong web page, or some concerted stalker who manually 'happens across' ALL webpages relevant to that user and picks them up.

              There is, in fact, just such an option because a friend notified me about this several hours before it hit Slashdot and I checked. Go and click the 'more' menu link for a voicemail, and then click on the 'embed' option. Poof, up pops the URL.

              Yeah, I saw that when checking and I guess I didn't write clearly - as far as I can tell that is only for sharing audio, not text and yet there are examples of text being handed out. I thought the sharing of audio was a bad ide

              • Indexing by google isn't the only way for these things to leak. For example, they could be indexed by yahoo, or msn, or just some schmoe who happens upon the wrong web page, or some concerted stalker who manually 'happens across' ALL webpages relevant to that user and picks them up.

                Indeed this is true. But none of those services is going to index a URL that a user didn't explicitly make public, even if the user was being stupid. I don't call that 'figuring out' because that implies some notion of obscurity that has to be peeled back.

                There is a wide chasm between intentionally publishing for all to see and "no user intrevention" - I see no explanation for the text making it out.

                It is interesting that once you have the URL for the shared voice mail you can find out many of the details about it. I can see how nieve user would quite possibly assume they were just sharing the audio portion. I would agree that Google's user interf

                • But none of those services is going to index a URL that a user didn't explicitly make public, even if the user was being stupid. I don't call that 'figuring out' because that implies some notion of obscurity that has to be peeled back.

                  Basically your position is "any accidents are the user's fault." That's a terribly brittle assumption, good security design takes into account failure modes - including human error, anticipates them and counters them. "Funny long URLs" are not obviously sensitive the way username/password pairs are, so right there the strongest defense against human error is wiped out. And not just the user's human error, there is easily the potential for someone at google to accidentally disclose these URLs because th

                  • Ultimately you are arguing for a Pandora's Box's of security. Just because you can't think of a way for one of these URLs to leak out now doesn't mean someone else won't come up with a way to make it happen and once that's the case, there is no stuffing them back into the box of obscurity.

                    While the rest of your comment is basically correct, though I will point out that I feel that Google's current UI does not make it clear to people exactly what they're sharing, I do take objection to this.

                    The browser history is an interesting question, and definitely an avenue in which the URLs may end up with more exposure than a user intends. Though, IMHO, a user is already being inordinately cavalier with security to be doing anything private on a public terminal. But I still stand by the notion that l

                    • And there isn't any other good way to accomplish the same goal.

                      I already spelled one out - make copies and do it explicitly, everybody understands the full implications of copying something and sending it on to someone or somewhere else. The file sizes are trivial, so that's not an issue. Make copies with a URL that has no connection to the original source.

                  • by Sparr0 (451780)

                    "Funny long URLs" are not obviously sensitive the way username/password pairs are, so right there the strongest defense against human error is wiped out.

                    "Funny long URLs" (that effectively cannot be brute forced or guessed, and have to be explicitly shared by the owner) are the same sort of security that Google Calendar uses for sharing "private" calendar data[1], and that flickr uses for private/protected image files. They are the only no-hassle-for-unregistered-recipients way to share such information. If users are too stupid to figure out the implications of sharing links on the internet, that is not Google's fault.

                    [1] "This is the private address for

                  • by skeeto (1138903)
                    I like having the ability to use a rope, even if I might use it to tie a noose around my neck. There is little reason to take away a very useful feature from many users just because a handful of thoughtless users shoot themselves in the foot.
                    • I like having the ability to use a rope, even if I might use it to tie a noose around my neck. There is little reason to take away a very useful feature from many users just because a handful of thoughtless users shoot themselves in the foot.

                      How is this significantly more useful than running the user through a procedure that explicitly makes an independent copy of the data that is fully disconnected from the user's private data storage, just like forwarding a file via email does?

  • Looks like they got my message to Steve Ballmer [google.com].
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Wait, who's Donna?

  • by vxvxvxvx (745287) on Monday October 19, 2009 @06:05PM (#29800905)

    UPDATE: It seems as if these voicemails have been publicly posted/shared online and Google indexes them. Here’s official word:

    “Since the initial idea behind posting a voicemail, was precisely to share it with others, we did not restrict crawling of those messages that users post on the web, but we can certainly understand that users would want to make them public on their sites but not necessarily searchable directly outside of their own website. We made a change to prevent those to be crawled so only the site owner can decide to index them.”

  • If it's out there (Score:5, Insightful)

    by El_Muerte_TDS (592157) <elmuerteNO@SPAMdrunksnipers.com> on Monday October 19, 2009 @06:14PM (#29800969) Homepage

    Like everything on the internet, if it's public, a web-spider will find it (eventually). But I'm seriously impressed by the speech-to-text engine Google uses, quite nice.

    • by gravos (912628)
      What's really impressive about it is that it's able to make any sense at all out of the terrible obscenely band-limited quality most phone messages are. I'm sure they have to use a bunch of statistical techniques based on their observations of common english text (eg, was "Dear aunt, let's set so double the killer delete select all" really what that person was probably saying?) to have any hope of producing something close to the correct answer.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by zippthorne (748122)

        Huh. I figured they just outsourced the translation to an indian sweat shop and the little checkbox next to the translation "was this useful?" results in a beating if you click "No."

    • by Cal27 (1610211)
      I agree, I've often wondered when Google is going to make a voice command and dictation program.
      I guess you could always just dictate to your voicemail box until then.
    • by Fencepost (107992) on Monday October 19, 2009 @06:50PM (#29801387) Journal
      I've been experimenting with the voicemail-to-text transcription services out there, and compared to both GotVoice and PhoneTag the quality of transcription from Google Voice is something of a bad joke.

      I understand that currently it's free (as opposed to $10+/month from the commercial services), and I have hopes that it will improve, but "quite nice" seems like a heck of a stretch at this point.

      Anecdotally, here's an edited for privacy transcription from PhoneTag: "Hi, Alan. It's Nancy at Village Surgeons. My number is 123-456-7890. I'm following up on my e-mail that I sent you last week with regard to backup of our (quicken?) system here. (Paul Oddlastname?) was, had a concern that it wasn't backing up. So, I just kinda wants to touch base with you about that. When you have a chance. Give me a call. Thank you. Bye."

      And here's an edited for privacy transcription from Google Voice today: "Hi Alan, it's gia Craig over at Northeastern collagen help topped and my computer is dead. It's definitely not working or managers on my phone's working. I checked the lines it doesn't look like. Anything's Unplugged, but I've pushed in any way you push the button to turn it on. There's no white that goes on movie then Maher of a machine starting. It's just absolutely dead and so could you do call me back and and come today. I do have to run over to delivery of the office for a few minutes this morning and then but I did not half hour. I might be at Colin's desk and that is extension 251. If I'm not at my own here and I'm 253. Thanks a lot. Bye bye."
      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You're comparing automatic speech recognition to human transcription services. Why?

      • by Mr2001 (90979)
        Here's one I got a few weeks ago from Google Voice:

        Hello voice subscriber what. Hey if you few questions for you. They can feel me 6 like a year like 2 years ago to like forever. Go you came over and I was locked out of the password didn't know the password so much and we wanted. Anybody passed it. I don't know how you guys have a good i just took it out for the first time in years and it says your class is expired. I must be c

      • by martas (1439879)
        while i was reading this, i thought you were claiming that the same voice message resulted in the two transcripts... needless to say, i was about to declare this bullsh!t.
  • Appropriate (Score:2, Insightful)

    by C_Kode (102755)

    Was that appropriate? Posting that voice mail that has names numbers and locations?

    Extremely poor ethics here at Slashdot.

  • Information wants to be free...

  • by gehrehmee (16338) on Monday October 19, 2009 @06:23PM (#29801079) Homepage

    Could at least mention that the link you linked to has the express updated statement from google:

    "Since the initial idea behind posting a voicemail, was precisely to share it with others, we did not restrict crawling of those messages that users post on the web, but we can certainly understand that users would want to make them public on their sites but not necessarily searchable directly outside of their own website. We made a change to prevent those to be crawled so only the site owner can decide to index them."

    These are messages that people went out of their way to make public, via a URL with a hash. There's a question of whether there should have been a different type of authentication here, but this story is an alarmist knee-jerk reaction at best.

  • by Megaweapon (25185) on Monday October 19, 2009 @06:24PM (#29801091) Homepage

    I'm Dialing Lucky

  • by itzfritz (822208) * on Monday October 19, 2009 @06:25PM (#29801097)
    The real problem, IMO, is that Google Voice voicemails are world-readable to begin with. The only security is the URL scheme. If that can be reverse engineered, the privacy of all google voice users will be in danger. (fyi I have tested this myself. The url scheme is "https://www.google.com/voice/fm/20-digit account id/long b64 encoded binary string", and these urls can be viewed by unauthenticated users. Note the use of https; while no man in the middle will read my voicemail, the man on one end can ;)
    • by noidentity (188756) on Monday October 19, 2009 @07:00PM (#29801503)

      The real problem, IMO, is that Google Voice voicemails are world-readable to begin with. [...] The url scheme is "https://www.google.com/voice/fm/20-digit account id/long b64 encoded binary string", and these urls can be viewed by unauthenticated users

      And my gmail account is available to anyone who knows my username and an n-character string (hunter2, starred for obvious resons).

    • The real problem, IMO, is that Google Voice voicemails are world-readable to begin with.

      I'm not really meaning to argue, but I believe the biggest part of that "real problem" is that a lot of users simply don't care about the security of their personal information.

      Quite by accident, I discovered that the transcripts are open to the world not long after my brother got a Google Voice account. He was commenting (via email) on the funny misinterpretation of a message I'd left him - he sent me the text and as chance would have it left the original link intact. When I clicked on it, I heard the mes

    • by BobPaul (710574) *

      Is that even true? If you choose "Download" and copy the URL it gives you for the wav file, you can't use the link unless your logged it. It's my assumption that to get a public URL of the scheme "google.com/voice/fm/*" you need to first choose the option to e-mail a voice mail and include a public link. Perhaps that's a poor assumption on my part. Do we have evidence that it's one way or the other?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Omnifarious (11933) *

      And, you know, if I 'reverse engineer' the right bunch of binary digits I can read all the credit card information in your https transactions. That bunch of binary digits being your AES key.

      If Google was in the least intelligent, that string would either be a random number or a hash (basically a random number if you don't know the exact data that went into it) of the voicemail contents plus the user and some other stuff. Personally, I expect they are in the least intelligent and that the URL is about as '

    • The real problem, IMO, is that Google Voice voicemails are world-readable to begin with. The only security is the URL scheme.

      http://some-site/some-service/some-item/2bdccb1f-08d9-4f0d-a270-bc061f0c475f [some-site]

      http://some-site/some-service/some-item?user=youruserid&password=12345 [some-site]

      Which is more secure? "Authentication" is just a URL, after all. (true, posts are handled slightly differently by browsers, but it's essentially the same as a get. It's all http in the end.)

      I like obfuscated URLs since I don't have to create a new thing to remember to access it. I can just look up the URL in my mail client or whatever. And I don't

    • by ei4anb (625481)
      Another risk is the interaction with any desktop or proxy software that leaks the URLs. Many systems seem secure but have unintended consequences when used with another system. For example, once the administrator of the proxy learns the "20-digit account id" of the CEOs voicemail a simple grep thru the logs would give access.
  • by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Monday October 19, 2009 @06:27PM (#29801119)
  • Dont want data to be found online? Dont put it out there for people to find.

    Total non-issue.
  • Other websites provided links to the voice mails.

    Google gives each voicemail a secret URL. If you choose publish the secret URL of one of your voicemail messages, then the voicemail message is no longer secret.

    Google's search service was just making URLs of messages that has been published searchable.

    Any search engine could and (does) index the very same.

    GoogleBot doesn't have any privileged access to index Google Voicemail messages that the account holder didn't make public (by publishing URLS t

    • by nog_lorp (896553)

      I assumed it would be set up like GMail documents: you click a "publish" button, and a link is enabled + given to you to publish. Can anyone confirm/deny this?

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