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Confidential bullying survey responses at 2 Hokkaido schools revealed online

Naohiro Otsuki, chief of the Hokkaido Prefectural Board of Education's school safety division, center, and others hold a press conference in Sapporo on June 9, 2023. (Mainichi/Yutaka Yamada)

SAPPORO -- Some students' responses to a bullying questionnaire at two public schools in Hokkaido were temporarily viewable online due to a misconfigured Google form and a mistaken URL, the education board revealed on June 9.

    Naohiro Otsuki, chief of the Hokkaido Prefectural Board of Education's school safety division, said, "The bullying questionnaire is based on the trust that it will not be seen by others, and this incident shakes the very foundation of the survey. We will take thorough measures to prevent a recurrence."

    According to the education board, the survey was conducted from late May to early June of this year, targeting students at public elementary, junior high, senior high and special-needs schools in Hokkaido, excluding those in the prefecture capital Sapporo. The board allowed schools to choose either a paper-based questionnaire or one on Google Forms, and about 200 schools chose the latter. The survey questions included, "Have you ever had a bad experience?" referring to bullying. Students could choose whether to give their names.

    At one school, guardians were able to see the responses of 40 students on Google Forms between around 5:30 p.m. on June 1 and 11:30 a.m. the following day. The mishap occurred apparently because the school inadvertently set up the form to give administrator-level editing authority to the guardians.

    At the other school, the responses of four students were viewable by teachers at other schools between 3:05 p.m. and around 4:45 p.m. on June 2. This was reportedly due to the students being given an incorrect form URL.

    The problems were discovered when a teacher at the school where the responses of 40 students were accessible checked the Google Forms settings. The prefectural education board immediately stopped conducting the questionnaire using Google Forms. It will thoroughly review its manual and ensure that more than one person is involved in the confirmation process.

    As to whether anyone accessed the responses, Otsuki said, "There is a possibility that they were viewed, but there have been no reports of that or information leaks at this time."

    (Japanese original by Yutaka Yamada, Hokkaido News Department)

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