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Reading Other People's Gmail Via Bloglines

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Using Bloglines to snoop on people's private Gmail from Martin Belam looks at how he accidentally stumbled upon email feeds that individuals are posting to Bloglines. To be fair, it's an issue that could happen to any "private" feed that someone unknowingly shares to the public.

Gmail allows people to get a feed of their email, as covered in these help pages. That lets you see the subject of your emails along with short descriptions. But even this small amount of information might be too embarrassing for some people to have made public.

How would those summaries get made public at all? In the case Martin looks at, people are adding their Gmail feeds to Bloglines but leaving those feeds public for others to view. That's how he stumbled upon them.

Google does warn about this, but he thinks the warning could be more visible. Perhaps -- but it's also worth keeping in mind that using an online news reader means you need to carefully consider ANY feed you take and whether those settings are public or not.

Postscript From Bloglines:

Bloglines is committed to online privacy and we take our role in this effort seriously. I'd like to help correct some of the misconceptions and explain how Bloglines privacy works in regards to both search and feeds as well as how to use Bloglines properly to generate secure feeds.

The main issue at hand is the appearance of Gmail accounts in Bloglines and a users's ability to subscribe to these feeds (or search for posts from these feeds).

The examples displayed were actually Gmail accounts registered through a third party (Feedburner) and then subscribed to within Bloglines.

Bloglines actually provides HTTP authentication for secure feeds. When this method is used, Bloglines secures the feed so that it can not be searched on or subscribed to except by the owner of the feed.

However, when the user generates their feed through a third party like Feedburner, the authentication portion has been removed from Bloglines' control and we have no way to identify and secure the feed. As a result the feed and it's previously secure data become public. Clearly this is a problem and we are in contact with Feedburner and other third parties to help them better inform and protect their users.

The other issue is the definition and understanding of "private" feeds within Bloglines. Marking a feed as private in Bloglines only hides the feed from your public blogroll and your identity from the feed's list of subscribers. We try to make this clear to Bloglines users by prominently displaying the following note during the feed subscription process:

"Private subscriptions don't show up in blogrolls and you will not be listed as a public subscriber. However, the feed and all its posts will remain available to the public via Bloglines and Ask.com Blog & Feed Search. Exceptions are Bloglines email subscriptions and feeds that require http authentication. In both cases, the feed and its posts will not be included in search results."

This issue has reminded us that there is still some confusion about privacy in the world of feeds. We recognize that a better system of limiting access to feeds is needed as more content becomes syndicated or syndicatable. We have been leading the effort to build new safeguards into syndications standards and are hopeful that some type of Feed Access Standard will provide further security for users and their feeds.


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