Last week, Google added 404-like soft 404s reporting to the Google Webmaster Tools reporting engine. As soon as Webmasters got their hands on this tool, they started to notice issues.
Many reported that Google was thinking that their real pages should be 404 (page not found) pages. This was obviously a concern to webmasters. Why would Google consider their real pages to be pages that should return a page not found response.
Googler Jonathan Simon confirmed the issue and promised the report will improve over the next two weeks or so. Jonathan Simon said:
Based on a quick check of the URLs you list it looks like these pages are being incorrectly flagged as soft 404 pages. Since this feature was just released we are still working on improving our detection of true soft 404 pages. In the near term you should see the number of legitimate pages on your site disappear from the soft 404 crawl errors report. So please check back in with Webmaster Tools over the next few weeks and if you continue to see a high number of pages on site improperly listed as soft 404s you can post the details to this thread and we'll investigate further.
Honestly, this really concerns me. Google clearly was using soft-404s behind the scenes for a long time. Providing this data to webmasters resulted in many claiming Google was soft-404ing pages that should not be 404ed. Now, with webmaster feedback, Google can address the issue. This is just concerning.
I guess providing the report to webmasters is a win-win for both webmasters and Google. I assume Google will only continue this route.
Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help.