As explained in a new blog post (opens in new tab), Google will take active steps to identify files hosted on its platform that are in breach of either its Terms of Service (opens in new tab) or abuse program policies (opens in new tab).
These files will be flagged to their owner and restricted automatically, which means they can no longer be shared with other people, and access will be withdrawn from everyone but the owner.
“This will help ensure owners of Google Drive items are fully informed about the status of their content, while also helping to ensure users are protected from abusive content,” the company explained.
New Google Drive policy
According to Google, the motive behind the policy change is to shield against the abuse of its services. This broad catchall encompasses cybercriminal activity (like malware hosting, phishing etc.), hate speech, and content that might endanger children, but also sexually explicit material.
“We need to curb abuses that threaten our ability to provide these services, and we ask that everyone abide by [our policies] to help us achieve this goal,” states Google in its policy document.
“After we are notified of a potential policy violation, we may review the content and take action, including restricting access to the content, removing the content, and limiting or terminating a user’s access to Google products.”
However, separating legitimate files from content in violation of abuse policies will be far from clear cut. In the policy document, Google explains that it may make “exceptions based on artistic, educational, documentary or scientific considerations,” which suggests there will be some element of editorializing involved in the process.
It’s easy to imagine a scenario whereby users’ files are rendered inaccessible without due cause. And it’s also unclear whether intimate photos of oneself, for example, are in breach of the abuse policy, or whether they fall under the “artistic” exception.
As explained in the latest blog post, there is a system to request a review (opens in new tab) of a decision if someone feels a file has been restricted unfairly, but it’s unclear how the process will be handled on Google’s end and how long it might take.
TechRadar Pro asked Google for comment on the potential for the new policy to cause disruption to regular users and for clarification over the review process. The company provided the following statement:
"Google Drive is constantly working to protect the security and safety of our users and society while always respecting privacy. Similar to how Gmail has long kept users safe from phishing and malware attacks, bringing these same protections to Google Drive is critical in ensuring Drive remains as safe as possible for all users.”
However, no information was forthcoming on the potential for content to be misclassified.