People are getting locked out of innocuous Google Docs for supposedly violating Terms of Service

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Google Docs users are reporting various bugs today that result in them getting locked out of their documents. Most of the issues center on a mysterious Terms of Service violation.

The reports largely come from journalists. It's unclear whether the error is targeting media companies and reporters, or if it’s just coincidence because reporters tend to spend a lot of time in the app (and on Twitter). Nevertheless, this bug is concerning, considering it implies that Google is scanning documents for content and something is misfiring on the company's end.

We reached out to Google for clarification and received this statement back: "This morning, we made a code push that incorrectly flagged a small percentage of Google Docs as abusive, which caused those documents to be automatically blocked. A fix is in place and all users should have full access to their docs. Protecting users from viruses, malware, and other abusive content is central to user safety. We apologize for the disruption and will put processes in place to prevent this from happening again.”

Update 10/31, 4:16 PM ET: Updated to include Google's statement.


Welcome to the world of cloud computing.

Machine learning in process

If we’re using journalists to build our AI, then we’re all in deep trouble.

Using the cloud is like keeping your money under a mattress. Someone else’s mattress.

Basically it’s more like straight-up giving someone else your money, based on the promise that they will always be around to give it back when you need it. And then they aren’t.

Like a bank then.

Like a bank…without the FDIC protections?

Like a bank with FDIC insurance, but the FDIC is dead broke.

…a bunch of somebody else’s geographically dispersed mattresses with redundant pillows and a set of backup sheets in the closet in case you have an accident.

Isn’t that what a bank does?

I don’t think there was ever a doubt that Docs scans through the documents. This looks like another case of an overly sensitive algorithm, just like YouTube.

This is great guys. I am all in google. They are doing this to protect you. You guys seen the iRobot movie. AI know what is good or bad for u.

So clearly Google is scanning your Documents. Who doesn’t see a issue with this? Your business documents being scanned by Google!!!

Why would they care what is in them anyway? After all it’s not PUBLIC info. I don’t get it. Maybe it’s a good thing our company moved to Office 365. Still cloud based, but I trust Microsoft in this far more then a advertising company making most of their money from Ad’s. I sure as sell wouldn’t want them scanning documents like this.

This is not a free service either where people could be expected that Google comb their stuff in return for their applications. People who pay for G-Suite are being affected by this and i don’t know how serious publishers can expect their journalists to work on a platform that has no respect for their privacy.

It’s part of their crackdown on "fake news".

YEP! Just happened to me. My group (shoutout to University of Waterloo, MEB, ENBUS602 Retail Group) just lost our entire assignment, because it was flagged for violating google’s TOS. I hope this gets fixed soon, otherwise we just lost 2 weeks of work.

I’m guessing that our document got flagged because google detected that it contains copyrighted information? I guess Google doesn’t like APA style citations.

Reminds me of early, where merely citing a source counted as plagiarism. Love machine learning.


So if I use Google Docs to type a school paper or even a grocery list, I could be locked out of my own documents? Do Apple’s Pages or Microsoft Word do this also? All 3 services save your documents to the cloud.

More of a reason to have your own end-to-end encrypted private cloud. One of these days, whether it’s Google, or Apple, or Microsoft, they are going to delete your work from their cloud from some nonsense violation, like YouTube also does when it hears bird music in the background, and other stupid reasons like that. And you won’t have any recourse unless your story blows up in the media (unlikely).

It happens to me and my fellow students as well. So not just journalists. As the owner I could copy n paste the text, because even an export was blocked.

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