Using Google Buzz Can Expose Your Gmail Address

I’ve discovered another trick that may surprise some, this time relating to Google’s services. I don’t view the issue as a vulnerability, but it likely goes against user privacy expectations. In short, having a public Google profile (which you might have created when checking out Google Buzz) can allow others to figure out your Gmail address.

This really shouldn’t be that surprising, given that your username is generally consistent across Google services, and a public profile is public. But those who currently have numeric profile addresses (e.g. http://www.google.com/profiles/104424237445852766735) might think their profile is not easily tied to their username.

But by using Picasa, Google’s photo sharing service, it’s often quite simple to go from a numeric profile address to an actual username. To protect yourself from this access, visit the Picasa settings page.  Under “Your gallery URL,” add a new username and select the new username for your gallery URL. Also, you may want to edit your nickname.

In my testing thus far, it matters little whether you’ve used Picasa before – if you have a Gmail account, Picasa is also enabled on your account. And while individual Picasa albums have privacy controls, I have not found a way to block simply loading your Picasa home page.

With the introduction of Buzz, Google is encouraging users to take advantage of Google profiles. But in the process, Google is tying together services that many users may have treated quite distinctly in the past. If you want your Gmail address to remain private, you need to manage properly the other Google services you use to avoid one of them exposing your Gmail username.

Update (Feb. 13): It appears Google has adjusted their services to prevent the original URI trick from working. Previously, adding a profile number to picasaweb.google.com (e.g.  http://picasaweb.google.com/104424237445852766735) would either load a page with the username visible, the username embedded in the page’s source code (_user.name in JavaScript), or an error page in a few particular instances. One configuration that would simply produce an error page was if you had Picasa setup under a different username than your Gmail username, hence my advice. It now seems that using a numeric Picasa URI will either load an error page if the user does have Picasa setup or a page indicating the user does not have Picasa galleries but with no username anywhere in the page.

I’ve already done some preliminary testing to see if Google Reader could also be used to discover usernames, but so far that does not seem possible. Still, it’s wise to be cautious when using a tool that interacts with so many other services.

Facebook StumbleUpon Digg Twitter Instapaper FriendFeed Delicious Google Bookmarks Share/Bookmark


Share with your friends!
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Comments are closed.

Email