Google fixes flaw that scrubbed websites from search index

By manipulating a URL, anyone with a webmaster tools account could remove a site from the index

Google has disabled a feature that could allow people to remove websites from its search index following a problematic discovery by an astute observer.

James Breckenridge, operations director at UK Web Media, wrote on his personal blog that he was using Google's webmaster tools, used for maintaining websites, and found he could delete any website from Google's search index by manipulating the URL (Uniform Resource Locator).

A site address must be included in Google's index for the search giant's engine to include that site in any relevant search results.

Breckenridge said he was deleting "thousands" of sites from the index when he accidentally deleted one that he had no relation to.

"I can't believe I am the only person to figure this out, and there are a number of things that could be happening right now if this information is already in the wrong hands," Breckenridge wrote.

Google, however, fixed the flaw within seven hours, and sites that should not have been removed should be back in the search index, Breckenridge wrote. Google officials in London confirmed the fix on Thursday morning.

"The URL removal feature kept detailed records, so we're currently reprocessing earlier removal requests to ensure their validity," the company said in a statement. "Our initial examination has shown only a limited impact."

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Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
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