Google Drive is locking some people’s files for no reason

Google Drive
(Image credit: Google)

Issues with the policing of a new Google Drive policy are leading to the suspension of some people’s files without due cause, user complaints suggest.

As we reported last month, Google recently introduced an updated policy for its cloud storage service, whereby files will be automatically flagged and restricted if they are deemed to be in violation of the company’s abuse policies.

Google says the goal is to shield against cybercriminal activity (malware hosting, phishing etc.), copyright abuses, hate speech and more. However, it appears the AI system charged with identifying abuses of the platform is producing false positives that prevent people from sharing their files.

Google Drive locks legitimate files

When the policy change was first announced, we registered concerns about the difficulty of distinguishing between legitimate files and content that violates Google’s abuse policies. At the time, Google declined to comment on the possibility that misclassification could result in users’ files being suspended without cause.

Now, it appears this precise problem has reared its head. As reported by The Register, Google Drive is flagging entirely innocuous files as inappropriate, including .txt files that contain just a single numeric character.

The issue was reported on Twitter by Dr. Emily Dolson, an assistant professor at Michigan State University, who was using Google Drive to share programming assignments with her students.

“This issue occurred when I uploaded a large set of files to Drive containing inputs and expected outputs for these test cases. Among the expected output files, there were a few that contained just the character ‘1’. Shortly after uploading them, I received a string of emails from Google indicating that those files had been flagged for copyright infringement,” she explained.

What’s more, Dolson has been offered no way to request a review of the decision made by the errant algorithm, despite the original Google blog post stating that users in this scenario should “receive an email with details and potential actions they can take to request a review”.

A Google engineer by the name of Misha Brukman chimed in on Dolson’s Twitter thread, assuring her that the company is working to remediate the issue. TechRadar Pro has asked Google for further clarification.

Update: Jan 26 12:45 EST / 17:45 GMT
Google has provided TechRadar Pro will the following statement:

"Google Drive is constantly working to protect the security and safety of our users, and we take copyright protection very seriously. This week, we discovered and addressed an issue that impacted a small number of Drive files."

"We have corrected all known cases where files were incorrectly flagged for violating Google’s Copyright Infringement policy, and have taken steps to prevent this from happening to new files going forward."

Via The Register

Joel Khalili
News and Features Editor

Joel Khalili is the News and Features Editor at TechRadar Pro, covering cybersecurity, data privacy, cloud, AI, blockchain, internet infrastructure, 5G, data storage and computing. He's responsible for curating our news content, as well as commissioning and producing features on the technologies that are transforming the way the world does business.