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Netflix SEO Efforts Expose User Data in Google and Yahoo

Editors Note: This is a post from 2005 that was made on another blogging system. I’m putting it up here for historical purposes, but I have yet to locate the screen shots that accompany it

While googling myself this morning, I discovered a very strange thing. It seems that netflix pages were coming up very high on the ranking. I took a look at the cached version of these pages and noticed that Netflix was showing MY LOGIN in the cached page. The only way to do this would be to show Googlebot my login area. Checking further, I notice that it’s not just me, there are a large collection of Netflix customer’s private data exposed including names, email addresses, mailing addresses, and even recent movies rented! The problem is not restricted to Google, but also cached pages in Yahoo! as well.

It seems user data from Netflix customers can be retrieved by the popular search engines Google and Yahoo by performing special queries reveiling a cached version of the page. This was discovered by on Friday. Judging by the cached date,the pages have been available as early as March 22nd.

The problem is not restricted to Google, but also cached pages in Yahoo! as well.

On some of the exposed pages see the users email and mailing address, as well as see what movies they have recently returned.

Cloaking Gone Bad
It appears that Netflix has been cloaking, serving different pages to search engine spiders than to users, and some error in their setup has exposed this data. Many popular sites cloak, including Google themselves, but normally to target geographically targeted pages to users such as their international versions. Whether this is a cloaking expiriment to try to game the search engines, or if this was just a mistake I’m not sure.

I’ve just returned “Run Lola Run”
That’s a page that I found in Yahoo. Indeed I did, and I liked it. Very good movie, but why is this available to Google and Yahoo?! Boy am I glad I don’t rent ADULT movies from netflix. The privacy violations are amazing at this point.

Mysterious Items in my Queue
Is Googlebot picking movies for me? My wife has been complaining about movies we’ve recently received and I thought nothing of them until now. From what I knew we had a near empty Queue, and now it is filled with a lot of random stuff. This is just speculation, but is in need of more invstigation.

One movie I see in Google’s cached version of my que, is “The Butterfly Effect”. Now I KNOW I didn’t put that there. For one, I have already rented it, and for another, the movie is one of the worst I’ve seen in a long time.

Ok, it seems this will turn up some of the Movies that Googlebot recommends and is adding to peoples’ queue.:

- John

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One Response to “Netflix SEO Efforts Expose User Data in Google and Yahoo”

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