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Google Docs Is Randomly Flagging Files for Violating Its Terms of Service (vice.com) 190

Louise Matsakis, writing for Motherboard: Google Docs, the collaborative, cloud-based word processing software, appears to be randomly flagging files for supposedly "violating" Google's Terms of Service. A member of Motherboard's team, as well as numerous users on Twitter, report that their documents are being locked for no apparent reason. Once a document is flagged, the owner of that document can no longer share it with other users. Users who have already been shared on a document that's been flagged are kicked out and can no longer access it. When a draft Motherboard article was locked on Monday morning, a message took over the screen that read "This item has been flagged as inappropriate and can no longer be shared." It's not clear why this is happening, but it may be the result of a glitch in the system Google uses to monitor Google Docs. DownDetector is currently reporting Google Drive problems in the US and Europe, which may be part of the problem.
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Google Docs Is Randomly Flagging Files for Violating Its Terms of Service

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  • by Type44Q ( 1233630 ) on Tuesday October 31, 2017 @12:42PM (#55464589)
    Sounds like the perfect time to finally ditch WordPerfect and use a modern, cloud-based word processor.
    • by bagofbeans ( 567926 ) on Tuesday October 31, 2017 @12:52PM (#55464695)

      It continues to astound me how many people I know, who'd I'd expect to know better, have all their emails only accessed by webmail. No POP client to save a local copy.

      Ditto those who entire contact database is only on their cellphone.

      • by Hylandr ( 813770 ) on Tuesday October 31, 2017 @12:59PM (#55464747)

        *Hangs head in shame*

        * Makes a todo item in his Google Calendar to create a local copy of my inbox.

      • by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Tuesday October 31, 2017 @01:03PM (#55464787) Homepage Journal

        IMAP is better, if you use both a mail client and a web interface.

      • by Aighearach ( 97333 ) on Tuesday October 31, 2017 @02:39PM (#55465471) Homepage

        I use a custom IMAP script to interface with my mail, but keeping a local backup is not a universal need.

        If my mail service went down, I'd care more about restoring access and moving my hosting so that I can send and receive mail again, much much more than having access to historical emails. Even the historical emails, there is very little data that cannot simply be re-requested!

        What continues to astound me is how many people there are who seem at first glance to understand technology, but on deeper examination have no concept at all of the use cases and so don't actually understand how to apply the technology. They're like a person who is an expert at math, but can't read words at all and so can't apply the math to anything other than a math test.

        You might be interested to know that people whose contact database is "only in their cell phone" probably have that contact list backed up by their vendor. A new phone would get that same contact list installed automatically when they activated it, they wouldn't need to enter the information in by hand from a paper backup. Also, even if they use a prepaid dumb phone, they can usually log into a website and access their call history and recover the important/common numbers.

        In the old days, we didn't have cell phones, but we had little address books we would carry around with all our numbers. Sometimes it would get lost. And there was no automatic backup. When you lost it, you'd ask your friends to copy numbers from their book, so minimize the number of people you had to share the mistake with. People who compulsively made a second copy of their addressbook also had 100s of other things to back up too, because everything was on paper and nothing had automatic backups. Keeping backups as a default behavior was something that people with certain types of OCD did, and it consumed hours out of every day. The same people often take notes of all conversations; "said good morning to bagofbeans at 8:23am" and things like that. Endless notebooks, boxes and boxes full of filled notebooks. It is not an absolute requirement for life, but sadly for some people that point seems confused.

        • You might be interested to know that people whose contact database is "only in their cell phone"

          • probably

          have that contact list backed up by their vendor.

          I suggest that 'probably' and 'backup' are a scary combination.

        • My vendor (Pixel on T-Mobile)? no.
          Google? yup. I literally only had to sign into my phone and auth my phone from my desktop (which was auth'd from one of three yubikeys) and *everything* was there within a few hours.
          All apps (that were compatible, there was one that worked on the Nexus5 but not the Pixel), contacts, call history, SMS history, WiFi network credentials, *EVERYTHING*.

          All in all I considered this to be brilliant (and I knew it was being done because I turned it all on).

          For the stuff that I don

  • "...a glitch in the system Google uses to monitor Google Docs..."

    wtf does this mean? the cynic in me can fill in the blanks but I'll wait for a more informed bit of info
    • Presumably, Google is scanning files uploaded to Docs for more than just viruses, which they do to any file uploaded there which is under a certain fairly large size. They are probably also scanning them for copyright violation, and also searching for their confidential documents because why wouldn't you? They almost certainly have given themselves the right to scan your documents for basically any reason they see fit, which is limited only by law, and not very much. They can't retain your medical informati

      • by mysidia ( 191772 )

        They can't retain your medical information even if they find it, for example

        No, they absolutely can do that if they want, well, in the US at least. In Europe they would be subject to privacy laws....

        • HIPPA, Pretty sure they'd be in deep shit in the US too if they kept *medical* info about you.

          From what I understand they basically don't screen private stuff for much beyond viruses and CP. Once you share it, it becomes subject to tighter scrutiny.

          • by mysidia ( 191772 )

            HIPPA, Pretty sure they'd be in deep shit in the US too if they kept *medical* info about you.

            HIPAA regulations apply SOLELY to HIPAA-Covered Entities which are health plans and clearinghouses (Insurance companies) and health providers; the rules don't have any affect and cannot be enforced against anyone else, Except sometimes when a covered entity engages the services of a 3rd party company who will handle some PHI, the covered entity may be required to make the 3rd party sign a special agreement cal

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Google Drive Terms of Service [google.com]

      We may review your conduct and content in Google Drive for compliance with the Terms and our Program Policies.

      When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through Google Drive, you give Google a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly displ

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Everything is scanned in real time for many different reasons. Files that have checksums that have been part of past police investigations.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 31, 2017 @12:48PM (#55464665)

    "Cloud is a nicer way of saying 'someone else's computer that you have no control over'."

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      It's not even that. It's "Someone else's computer that you have no control over, and don't even know who owns it or in what country it resides. Or whether it will be on the same one tomorrow.".

      • My cloud resides in "The Planet" datacenter down in Brea, CA, USA.
        I have control over it, though it's someone else's HW (VPS).

        • by HiThere ( 15173 )

          OK. And it's possible to have "own cloud" servers that you actually own and control. But that's not the normal state of affairs, and you shouldn't assume that when someone tells you they've stored something on the cloud.

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <jcr@@@mac...com> on Tuesday October 31, 2017 @12:51PM (#55464685) Journal

    I've been seeing a lot of messages on twitter about people who can't access their documents and don't have local copies. I guess they won't make that mistake again.

    -jcr

    • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Tuesday October 31, 2017 @01:09PM (#55464811)

      I guess they won't make that mistake again.

      You really overestimate their intelligence. These are likely the same people who use Facebook and Windows despite repeated instances of blatant malicious behavior. There is a large portion of users that will not quit using abusive systems no matter the cost.

      • I guess they won't make that mistake again.

        You really overestimate their intelligence. These are likely the same people who use Facebook and Windows despite repeated instances of blatant malicious behavior. There is a large portion of users that will not quit using abusive systems no matter the cost.

        Hate to point out the obvious, but cost is the main reason cheap-ass users put up with the abuse, particularly with social media.

        Facebook could start stealing identities and destroying credit scores tomorrow, and users would still brag that it's free.

      • I actually just stay on facebook and twitter to try and be a voice of reason in the otherwise very large echo chamber they have created.
    • This probably doesn't apply to google docs or any other online office systems. But it certainly applies to online storage like dropbox or whatever the fuck microsoft is calling theirs this week. If you are going to use such services encrypt your damn documents. They can't remove if they can't read it, unless they just decide to remove all encrypted documents.

      And for god sakes keep recent, local backups. Since dropbox stores shit in a folder on your computer just have that folder get backuped up in

    • I guess they won't make that mistake again.

      Yes they will, because the people who are stupid enough to use this for important stuff are stupid enough to make this mistake over and over again.

      I've said from the very beginning of the "Store your data on someone else's servers" (euphemistically called, "Cloud Computing") explosion that this is exactly what would happen. Despite all the counter-arguments from people saying that the Cloud is best used as a backup for your locally stored data, it's too much work for most people to duplicate their data loc

    • by mishehu ( 712452 )

      Nobody believes me that not only did Commander Keen 4 predict what the cloud [welovedosgames.net] is like, but that the cloud can get angry and zap you in the butt with lightning....

  • as with all Google properties.
  • Apple haters gonna hate to admit this, but Apple's iCloud Drive does not read your docs.
    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      Got any proof of that? I believe it's closed source, so proving that would be a bit difficult.

      • by zlives ( 2009072 )

        i am sure if you shared some copy right material... you willl figure it out pretty quickly...

    • Apple haters gonna hate to admit this, but Apple's iCloud Drive does not read your docs.

      And I'm sure Apple never loses or deletes people's documents. Right...

      I'm guessing you have owned more than one Apple product.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Tuesday October 31, 2017 @01:03PM (#55464785) Journal
    Back in the days many companies would announce plans for products and never deliver anything promised. That created the derisive term vaporware.

    Now cloud, which is actually water vapor, is all the rage and everyone and his brother wants to put their stuff in the cloud.

  • Also use a picture of Alfred E. Neuman. How are they going to prove it isn't me?
  • So Google is reading private documents on it's servers. That's why I don't use google docs.
    • You seem a bit confused. It isn't a private document; the sharing mode simply has the word "private" in it.

      For example, there is a device called a "safe," but if your documents are in it that doesn't mean they are literally safe; maybe they are, maybe they're not!

      When you check a box and tell google, "Please keep this document private" that doesn't mean it is a "private" document; it doesn't mean you're asking google not to read it. It means you're asking google not to show it to other people without your p

  • Pretty much answers the question: should you move your personal computing into the cloud? Just how brain damaged would you need to be, to buy Google's (or any other megacorp's) koolaid pitch about the cloud, as opposed to just downloading Libreoffice for free, and using it securely in the safety of your own device? Which of course is running Linux to actually be safe... oh, I forgot, there is a lot of brain damage going down out there.

    Word to the wise: use the cloud only for throwaway stuff you don't mind s

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Re: should you move your personal computing into the cloud?
      No.
  • Thanks for the tech support update. It doesn't sounds like Google has changed any kind of policy - rather is having an issue enforcing current policy.

    In other news - my Intel video driver update is causing Outlook to draw a black page when I plug in an external monitor. Choosing "disable hardware acceleration" appears to be the work around.

    Public service --- Just incase anyone else needs to know about that bug too. I'll post it to twitter hoping to make it a Slashdot article. The twitter universe - wh

  • O had no idea that anyone actually used that stupid service. And now it's worse than useless. Actually harmful to the entire point of the cloud.

    But the that's none of my business. I hope someone loses a shitload of money when Google does this. That would be pretty entertaining.

  • by MachineShedFred ( 621896 ) on Tuesday October 31, 2017 @02:26PM (#55465357) Journal

    I've never had a word processing application on my laptop start denying access to my own files. Use a hosted service, get hosted service problems.

  • I have stuff on Google Docs, but if they locked it, I have local copies on my desktop, laptop, and thumb drive, not to mention other online places.

  • it may be the result of a glitch in the system Google uses to monitor Google Docs

    Don't be silly. That would have shown up in testing.

  • What an utterly stupid fault to build in as a feature. Obviously Google Doc is viewed as a toy at best by Google.

  • I seriously doubt Google is just flagging files at random, which would make no sense. Clearly they are using some algorithm that is not working properly, which should lead one to believe that this problem can be fixed. The summary mentioning "It's not clear why this is happening," is evidence that the title not just incorrect but also alarmist and kind of whiny because this is personal.

    Google is a convenient way to share and store documents, but if you use ANY one method of storage without any backup or c

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