A number of Google Drive users found their documents suddenly inaccessible last month, because they were supposedly in violation of Google’s terms of service.
These users were presented with a Google Drive error message when trying to access their files, which said they could not be accessed but did not say whether it was a temporary measure. Among those impacted by the issue were the founder of Jacobin Magazine Bhaskar Sunkara, reporter for National Geographic Rachel Bale and assistant professor of history at the University of Nebraska Jason Heppler. All had legitimate files that were not actually in breach of Google’s terms but had, it turned out, been erroneously flagged for containing abusive content. Most worryingly, Heppler was told his files had been deleted altogether, although they were subsequently restored.
Google put the issue down to faulty code. In this case it was the exact code that allows users to flag any inappropriate content they come across, for further investigation. This code has been put in place in lieu of automatic recognition software (the likes of which identifies copyrighted material uploaded to YouTube) that cannot be used in a similar way on Google Drive.
Whilst Google failed to admit how many accounts were impacted, it did claim to be only a “small percentage”. A company spokesperson went on to explain that a fix had since been put in place and that all users should now “have full access to their docs.”
Amid its apology for the error, Google highlighted that such checks and procedures are important to protect web users and keep them safe online. It promised further safeguards, which would protect data and ensure such scenarios aren’t repeated.
Though this issue reached a swift and satisfactory conclusion, it does put into stark focus the potential pitfalls inherent in storing files in the cloud. Though fail-overs and protection are offered by the best providers, files could still be deleted or destroyed for any number of reasons, with little to no chance of salvage. It should prove a timely reminder, for those who need it, to keep numerous backups of anything important enough to warrant it.