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Saturday, October 7, 2006

Picasa Fixes Privacy Vulnerability

Good to see Google listens: after being criticized for making unlisted albums easily accessible to those guessing an album name, Picasa Web Albums (think of it as Google’s Flickr) now finished a transitional phase in which they added an authentication key to the URL of unlisted albums.

Previously, an unlisted album name would show as e.g.: philipp.lenssen/JustATest

So, knowing a Google user name – which can be crawled from Google search results, for example – you could append names like “private” or “girlfriend” and hit on albums the user did not select to be public (with Picasa, that’s something else than selecting them to be private). With a little automation, I found around a dozen unlisted albums... and at one time, even Larry Page’s unlisted album was live.

Then, Google automatically redirected everyone from above URL to e.g. (and they also amended their wording in the private vs unlisted interface): philipp.lenssen/JustATest?authkey=waMr2_TWpFU2RMt29dnTSahGar4

And finally, they now disabled this redirect for everyone except the album owner (and in the future, they might disable the last remaining redirect as well – they’re still displaying the “ Important! The address for this page has changed. Please update your bookmarks” note).

As Zmarties notes, Google itself still lists unlisted albums on their web search engine, though; in fact, now that there’s an authkey parameter, you can specifically restrict your search to these albums (even though the pages include a “noindex” directive, Google will list their plain URLs). However there’s a good chance the album owner – or one of his friends – linked to these URLs on a public page at one time or another in the first place.

Still, a third choice would make sense for album owners; visible to 1) everyone, 2) only people knowing the URL, and 3) only people I invited. Then you’d have the option to not invite anyone at all, and truly keep some pics private. Also, this wording would make sure no one figures that by not selecting public they make the album private.

[Thanks Zmarties!]


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