Some users of Google Docs are reporting that they’ve been unexpectedly locked out of certain documents, supposedly for “violating Terms of Service.” And users are seeking answers.
A number of Twitter users have tweeted that they’re being locked out of certain documents that are “in violation” of Google’s Terms of Service. According to The Verge, these reports “largely come from journalists,” but that may be a coincidence.
Has anyone had @googledocs lock you out of a doc before? My draft of a story about wildlife crime was just frozen for violating their TOS.
— Rachael Bale (@Rachael_Bale) October 31, 2017
Tfw your finalizing a piece on E. Europe post-socialist parties in Google Drive and Google removes it because it's in violation of its ToS??
— Bhaskar Sunkara (@sunraysunray) October 31, 2017
@googledocs My team's shared to-do list just got flagged as violation of terms of service–super confused! We requested a violation review.
— Hanna Porterfield (@citygirlhanna) October 31, 2017
Users are obviously concerned, and an immediate fear some have is that Google may be reading documents and censoring them for one reason or another. Another (much more likely) explanation is that some bug has hit Google Docs — possibly a bug involving an algorithm that’s been searching through documents. Such an algorithm could be related to a spam filter, but it’s all speculation at this point.
Google Docs is responding to users on Twitter with variations of the same tweet, basically stating that the company is aware of the issue, and they’re investigating. Google is asking users to remain patient.
We understand your concern. The team has been made aware and is investigating. Appreciate your patience.
— Google Docs (@googledocs) October 31, 2017
Time will tell if Google can fix and explain this issue to the satisfaction of its many users — there may be a larger explanation as soon as today. But regardless of how this specific incident may be resolved, this is a cautionary tale when it comes to cloud storage.
UPDATE (11/1): A Google rep says that a “code push incorrectly flagged a small percentage of Google Docs as abusive, which caused those documents to be automatically blocked.” The issue has been fixed, and the company will “put processes in place to prevent this from happening again.”
Many of us put a certain amount of trust in these companies when it comes to handling our personal data and documents — sometimes out of convenience, sometimes out of what feels like necessity. But there are extra steps users can take to safeguard their stuff.
It’s our belief that all of your most important, vital documents stored in cloud storage — you may choose not to save them there in the first place — should also be stored locally, on your own computer. If nothing else, this creates a backup in case something goes wrong with the cloud. Multiple backups should be considered for your most valuable files — a trusted offline backup is also a good idea.
If these specific Google issues make you concerned, but you still want the convenience of cloud storage, other options are available. Apple’s iCloud is a popular choice for Apple users, but we’ve also highlighted a number of cloud storage alternatives with extra security.
Gmail users would also do well to at least look into plug-ins that increase security. Check out Six Plug-Ins For Added Gmail Security for more information.