Japanese government officials and journalists have reportedly use the wrong privacy settings for Google Groups online discussions, enabling anyone to see internal memos.
Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun said it found more than 6,000 cases where information from public or private organizations including hospital records had been publicly available, AFP reported on Wednesday.
The Yomiuri, also admitted its journalists had been using the wrong settings on Google Groups and may have revealed draft stories and interview transcripts to anyone who wanted to see them.
The environment ministry mandarins were among those who use default settings on Google Groups, which enabled public access to discussion threads, instead of limiting them to members only.
A spokesperson for the environment ministry said officials have used the service to share information, including planned talking points for negotiations on an international mercury trade treaty. The Japanese delegation had also uploaded its exchanges with their Swiss and Norwegian counterparts and the treaty is expected to be signed in the later part of the year.
"It was problematic that the processes around ongoing negotiations could be seen by outsiders. We have taken corrective steps," an environment ministry spokesperson told the newswire. Even though the memos were not "top secret", they were not for public release.
Google Groups enable users to establish or join discussions on any subject, which can be accessed either by e-mail or through the Web. The user who sets up the group can decide who can join the group and who can view and post messages.
The default on the set-up page enables anyone to see messages, though this can be limited by a drop-down menu.
Asian government officials have been sending sensitive information and policy documents through e-mail services run by U.S. Internet giants, which have raised concerns data might be monitored and collected by U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) for its alleged PRISM program.
Spokespeople at Japan's foreign and defense ministries however, told Reuters transmitting work-related information through Web-based e-mail services was strictly prohibited.