Google’s Bard chatbot is currently being re-educated to better understand privacy.
In July, Bard gained the ability to share conversations with other people using a unique public link. Unfortunately, Google Search has indexed those shared links, making them more widely available and discoverable than Bard patrons might expect.
“You can share a specific prompt and Bard’s response or an entire chat,” Google explains in its help documentation. “To do this, create a public link and then share it, like in a messaging app, or post it on your favorite social platforms.”
Bard public links are more or less what YouTube calls unlisted videos – they’re accessible if you know the URL, which should look something like this:
Google, not shy about asking for marketing assistance, suggests sharing Bard conversations on social media services. And those who do so presumably expect to have other internet users reading their AI ruminations.
But Google suggests public links can be removed, which isn’t quite true if they show up in Google Search results. Google does make clear that it can’t remove what’s posted to third-party sites, but the issue here is with Google’s own search service. At least shared links automatically expire in six months.
The link cited above includes a prompt asking Bard to plan a weekend trip from Germany to Italy. We found it, along with many more, in Google Search results simply by using the
site: operator (
site:https://bard.google.com/share), which provides a list of the shared Bard conversations indexed by Google’s web crawler.
While the creator of the travel conversation is not identified in the chat record – per Google’s design – and the chat record contains no personal information, the prompt’s author may not be aware that shared links can be captured and preserved in Google Search.
Frankly, the presence of Bard chats in Google Search barely rates on a list of text ads giant’s greatest privacy misses, which includes Street View cars collecting sensitive data from Wi-Fi networks and combining its ad data with Google user’s personal data.
Google is aware that Google Search might be overly acquisitive and is working on a fix. “Bard allows people to share chats, if they choose,” explained Danny Sullivan, Google’s public liaison for Search, in a post. “We also don’t intend for these shared chats to be indexed by Google Search. We’re working on blocking them from being indexed now.”
Among those expressing concern about Google’s capture of Bard conversations, Simon Willison, an open source developer, pointed out that OpenAI avoided this problem with ChatGPT shared pages by serving them with a robots meta tag that keeps crawlers away.
On a related note, OpenAI last month announced a similar way to keep its GPTBot from scraping websites for data for its AI models. ®