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Google Drive Can Lock You Out Your Own Files

A good many users keep documents on Google’s Docs service. Though Word dominates the offline market, and does now have an online alternative, Google got there first and popularised their service. However, some might not have considered what storing their data online actually means, especially when it’s technically on a corporation’s server – they have more control over it than you might think.

This came to light a couple of months ago, when some users went on Twitter to ask why they couldn’t access some of their documents. In actuality, the specific users who found themselves locked out were at the curse of a bug. New code that Google had implemented had incorrectly flagged the documents as abusive, so it automatically blocked them. It was then patched, giving those users access to their documents again.

Google have claimed that they don’t actually read the content per se. “We do not technically read files, but instead uses an automated system of pattern matching to scan for indicators of abuse. Though it can identify clusters of data that might suggest a violation, the system does not pull meaning from the content,” said a spokesperson.

Google’s Director of Product Manager, Mark Rishner, apologised to the users who had been impacted by the bug. He went on to explain that the reason this scanning feature is in place is in order to protect its users against spam, viruses and malware – a cyber-security angle, then, rather than one to control user’s content.

According to Rishner’s blog post, Drive and Docs have automatic, preventive security precautions to protect their users. It performs automated comparisons against known samples and indicators and doesn’t involve human intervention.

All of this is probably true. But that doesn’t mean that Google isn’t after data. Everything you do on Google and its services is being tracked and stored. This summer Gmail stopped scanning emails for advertising reasons, but that practice had been going on for years.

Bear in mind that advertising made up 88% of Alphabet’s (Google’s parent company) profit in 2016. Google cares about the users on their platform from a data perspective. They work out what language you speak, along with what adverts will be interesting to you, who you care about online or what YouTube videos you might watch – and all of that comes from their privacy policy.

At the end of the day, Google Docs and Drive are free. That means you are the product. The data that can be gathered about you is what Google can use to create a profit. If that’s a trade-in you’re willing to make, that’s fine. You just need to understand the potential repercussions of that and what storing your content on the platform means. While it’s unlikely that Google are going to block users from accessing their documents based on its subject in the near future, and at the moment it’s only been done for a cyber-security reason, it’s a possibility simply due to the technology at their disposal.


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