At this point, it’s no secret at all that Big Tech is tracking our every move. Some companies — most notably Apple — have recently enacted policies that, at the very least, stop third-party companies from getting their hands on that tracking data. (Not that those measures always actually work as intended.)
Some spaces feel safer than others. Take Google Docs, for example. It’s a blank document that lives in a private cloud drive; why would we have any reason to fear anyone other than ourselves and our collaborators would see what we’re typing there?
If you fall into this category, we have some not-so-great news for you: Google is very much “looking” at what you store in your Google Drive. Every file you upload, every Doc or Sheet you create — Google’s algorithm is right there with you. Your Google Drive is not private at all.
Once uploaded to Google Drive, your files fall under the purview of Google’s Terms of Service. Anything that goes against those Terms can be flagged for removal and can even lead to a ban from Google’s cloud programs altogether. Looks like it’s time to find a new home for any shady files you need stored.
What’s covered here? — On a base level, anything that violates Google’s general Terms of Service can be automatically removed from the company’s websites and programs. Google also reserves the right to remove content that violates applicable law or could harm users, third-parties, or Google. Child sexual abuse material falls into this category, for example.
Then there’s the Abuse Program Policies and Enforcement list, which more explicitly covers Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, and Sites. There is an individual policy listed for each of the following types of content:
- Account hijacking
- Account inactivity
- Child sexual abuse and exploitation
- Dangerous and illegal activities
- Harassment, bullying, and threats
- Hate speech
- Impersonation and misrepresentation
- Malware and similar malicious content
- Misleading content
- Non-consensual explicit imagery
- Personal and confidential information
- Regulated goods and services
- Sexually explicit material
- System interference and abuse
- Unauthorized images of minors
- Violence and gore
- Violent organizations and movements
In order for your account to be banned, you usually have to breach Google’s terms multiple times. In some cases, though — like when a legal entity orders Google to do so — your account may be suspended or terminated immediately. A first-offense ban may also be used if you’re using Google software to hack, harass, phish, or spam someone.
Hard digital copies are best — Not much is known about how, exactly, Google moderates programs like Drive and Docs. A few years ago, a large number of users reported being locked out of Docs for violating Google’s Terms, an error that Google chalked up to being a glitch. That’s led many to believe Google is using machine learning algorithms — a theory that makes a lot of sense, given the scale here.
The idea that Google’s AI is monitoring everything you do in Docs and other cloud programs might be enough to scare them off from the service. There’s no evidence that Google is using this information for itself or selling it to others, at least.
Moreover, this is a stark reminder (especially in context of that 2017 glitch) that your Drive does not belong to you. Information stored on cloud drives can be deleted at any time. For any important files, you might want to invest in an external hard drive. Or two.