AU: School students’ private medical details leaked in Google sync privacy mess

Here’s what appears to be a serious breach involving Google drive and syncing. Henrietta Cook reports:

Confidential files detailing high school students’ medical conditions, including anxiety issues and those at risk of suicide, have been found on a Melbourne schoolgirl’s iPad.

The document contains photos, names and medical and family details of years 7 to 12 students at Manor Lakes P-12 College in Wyndham Vale in Melbourne’s south-west.


The 14-year-old girl discovered the document on her iPad last month and said she had no idea how it got there.

Now read the following explanation from the Education Department carefully, because this looks very much like what some people reported in Springfield, Missouri Public Schools:

He said the private student information had been inadvertently shared with one student.

He said in May, the student borrowed a teacher’s laptop because she did not have her own device. The teacher sat next to the student while she completed an assignment on the borrowed computer, the spokesman said.

The student accessed her own Google documents on the machine.

The spokesman said that when the teacher later used her laptop the document they opened synced with the student’s account. This meant it turned up on the student’s own Google drive.

The spokesman said there was no evidence that private and personal school documents had been obtained by anyone other than the individual student.

But the girl’s father said that his daughter never used the teacher’s laptop.

“She doesn’t recall using a teacher’s device at all this year,” he said.

Read more on Canberra Times.  How did the teacher’s laptop sync with the student’s own Google drive? What configuration hell led to this mess? What should the district have done to prevent this from ever happening? COULD the district have prevented it or is there something in Google’s G-Suite coding that pretty much makes this kind of nightmare not only predictable but inevitable?
I’ll be reporting more on the Springfield case in the near future, but it’s interesting – albeit frustrating – that the reporting on this Melbourne case does not do a deeper dive into how this happened and how it could have been prevented – if it could have been.
I know there are those whose immediate hypothesis will be poor password hygiene or poor browser hygiene on the part of the users (in this case, the teacher). But by now, Google has to know that there’s poor password hygiene and poor browser hygiene. So why doesn’t it code take that into account enough?  Or did it take it into account but the district failed to follow directions? And how often do districts fail to configure Google products to be appropriately privacy-protective? Does Google’s coding and default settings take that into account?

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