Google Docs is a rather handy tool, giving users the ability to craft and share documents among others, even giving them editorial permissions to create an online writers room. That is, if you don’t get caught by a recent bug that blocks access to said documents for supposedly breaching terms of service.
Following National Geographic journalist, Rachael Bale, many users took to Twitter on Tuesday to report an error message when trying to access their documents, that showed that their content apparently violated Google’s terms of service. The bug has since been fixed by the internet search giant, but the widespread attention presented by the glitch has prompted follow-up questions.
The explanation given by Google was that “a code push … incorrectly flagged a small percentage of Google Docs as abusive, which caused those documents to be automatically blocked.” This has been less than satisfying for those inconvenienced by the bug, but it moves beyond that.
Initially, concern surrounded the fragility of online cloud systems and user reliance on them, but has since expanded to concern over Google’s invasive monitoring policy. Bale tweeted again, stating that “this kind of monitoring is kind of creepy,” followed by a plethora that echoed that same proclamation.
I like to use Google Docs for drafts because my editor and I can work together in real time, but this kind of monitoring is creepy
— Rachael Bale (@Rachael_Bale) October 31, 2017
Concern over monitoring is hardly new, as companies such as Google have always been able to access and read user accounts, from emails to created documents. And it’s not like Google has employed any individual to scour specific accounts to cause such an issue. This is rather the result of an automated process, set off by possible keywords typed and saved by the individuals affected.
“Google said that it does not technically read files, but instead uses an automated system of pattern matching to scan for indicators of abuse,” reports The Washington Post after receiving more details directly from Google. “Though it can identify clusters of data that might suggest a violation, the system does not pull meaning from the content.”
The automated systems are in place to make users feel as if their privacy is intact, whether it truly is or isn’t in the long run.
KitGuru Says: Privacy when surfing the internet is a commodity if it exists nowadays, as terms of service agreements tend lead to invasive practices on behalf of the company. But the lesson to take away here, at the very least, is to often make offline backups of your work. Has this changed your mind on using Google Docs?