Private tweets surface in Google search

You can find just about anything with a Google search.

That includes status updates on many Twitter profiles that were supposed to be private.

Some Twitter users lock their profiles from public view by checking a box on their settings page.

People looking to follow protected accounts must then ask permission.

A minority of Twitterers do so to avoid public attention but, as Fleet Foxes indie folk singer Robin Pecknold writes on his protected profile, "keep up to date w/ loved ones and family".

If you try to access a protected account from just about any Web browser, you'll see this message: "This person has protected their tweets."

But Twitter gave at least one company the key to the city: Google.

Google's search crawler, called the Googlebot, appears to be given an unobstructed view into Twitter's more than 5 billion messages, including supposedly protected tweets.

It seems Googlebot can crawl through the doggy door and access private profiles without permission.

Many of those protected messages can be found through Google's search engine.

The results page shows an index of the tweets it has logged, and for more recent tweets, a cache of the page as it might appear for someone who has been granted access.

Even tweets that appear to have been deleted from a hidden account show up partially.

For example, a search for Bill Clinton's profile spits out the first few words of tweets.

The excerpts include: "John Edwards . . . why did you," "NY Gov got caught with a," "Oh Hillary, 3rd place in," and "I have been too depressed . . ."

Disappointing that it cuts out the juiciest parts.

Twitter has fixed at least two holes in the past that enabled users to peek into hidden profiles.

Twitter's own search engine occasionally used to display tweets from private accounts.

You could also trick Twitter into showing you hidden tweets using the site's RSS feeds.

Google was wrapped in a similar controversy recently when its search engine began surfacing voice mail messages for some users of Google Voice.

Whoops.

Twitter Chief Executive Evan Williams wrote on his profile (which is not protected), saying, "I "think it's not cool to retweet a protected tweet."

We think it's not cool to let Google index a protected tweet.

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