June 23, 2024
Google Search caught indexing users' conversations with Bard AI


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Google Bard, the search giant’s conversational AI product, underwent a big update last week that earned mixed reviews. But this week, another, older Bard feature is coming under scrutiny: SEO consultant Gagan Ghotra observed that Google Search had begun to index shared Bard conversational links into its search results pages, potentially exposing information users meant to be kept contained or confidential.

This means that if a person used Bard to ask it a question — possibly even a question related to the contents of their private emails — then shared the link with a designated third-party, say, their spouse, friend or business partner, the conversation accessible at that link could in turn be scraped by Google’s crawler and show up publicly, to the entire world, in its Search Results.

On X (formerly Twitter), Ghotra posted a screenshot of evidence of several Bard conversations being indexed by Google Search.

Google Brain research scientist Peter J. Liu replied to Ghotra on X by noting that the Google Search indexing only occurred for those conversations that users had elected to click the share link on, not all Bard conversations, to which Ghotra patiently explained: “Most users wouldn’t be aware of the fact that shared conversation mean it would be indexed by Google and then show up in SERP, most people even I was thinking of it as a feature to share conversation with some friend or colleague & it being just visible to people who have conversation URL.”

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Ultimately, Google’s Search Liaison account on X, which provides “insights on how Google Search works,” wrote back to Ghotra to say “Bard allows people to share chats, if they choose. 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.”

Even though Google says it is working on a fix, the mistake does not reflect well on Bard or Google’s consumer AI ambitions, especially in the face of intense competition from other rival AI chatbots like OpenAI’s popular ChatGPT. Hopefully Google’s new AI, Gemini, will offer a better and more private experience.

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