Google has revealed a bug in its code caused users of its online documents to be locked out of their own files.
Users, many of whom were journalists, took to Twitter after finding themselves unable to access their work.
They received a message saying, ‘This item has been flagged as inappropriate and can no longer be shared,’ with options to request a review or dismiss the request.
Users received a message saying, ‘This item has been flagged as inappropriate and can no longer be shared,’ with options to request a review or dismiss the request.
Google has now admitted a bug in its code caused the documents to be marked as abusive – which triggered them becoming locked.
Rachael Bale, a wildlife crime reporter for National Geographic, took to Twitter when a draft of her story was ‘frozen’ by Google.
‘Weirdly, this is one of the more tame articles I’ve worked on recently. It’s actually about legal, but ethically dubious activity,’ she said on Twitter.
‘To be clear, I don’t think this is targeted censorship. My guess is there’s a glitch. Several others have said it just happened to them.’
‘Just to be sure, I reviewed the TOS, and there’s nothing in this doc that I can see that actually violates it.’
Google later admitted to the flaw.
‘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.
The bug has raised privacy issues over Google’s scanning of documents created and stored it its service.
‘This kind of monitoring is creepy,’ Bale tweeted.
Gmail already scans emails so that its smart-reply feature can function, and the same policy extends to other Google products.
‘Our automated systems analyze your content to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, and spam and malware detection,’ reads the terms of service for Google Drive, the suite of productivity tools of which Google Docs is a part.
The policy states: ‘We collect information about the services that you use and how you use them, like when you watch a video on YouTube, visit a website that uses our advertising services, or view and interact with our ads and content.
‘This includes information like your usage data and preferences, Gmail messages, G+ profile, photos, videos, browsing history, map searches, docs, or other Google-hosted content. Our automated systems analyze this information as it is sent and received and when it is stored.’