Creepy Google Docs Glitch That Locked Out Users Raises Privacy Concerns

A glitch in the popular Google Docs service resulted in users getting locked out of their documents on Tuesday because, according to a message, they had violated the company’s terms of service. The issue has now been fixed, but the incident is raising some uncomfortable questions for Google.

“Obviously this is raising questions in a lot of people’s minds about the level of surveillance in internet tools, like cloud-based tools,” Rachael Bale, whose tweets gained traction, said on Tuesday.

Ms. Bale, a reporter for National Geographic’s Wildlife Watch, said that while what happened was “problematic,” she was not too taken aback. “We know Google has access to all kinds of information about us,” she said, adding that professionally, she avoids using Google Docs for “anything sensitive.”

Google Docs is a cloud-based collaborative tool that enables users to create documents and share them with others, and allows several people to edit and comment on a document at the same time.

The glitch according to Fortune gained widespread attention yesterday when Rachael Bale, a National Geographic journalist, tweeted that Google had “frozen” her document while she was writing a story about wildlife crime. Others also claimed to be abruptly cut off from Google Docs, which provides a suite of services similar to Microsoft Office.

“This shows that Google is using advanced machine learning and other A.I. technologies to examine vast amounts of information in near real time,” Dana Gardner, a leading cloud expert and a principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, said on Tuesday.

A Google spokesman said in a statement that a “code push” caused a small percentage of Google Docs to be incorrectly flagged as abusive, which caused them to be automatically blocked.

“A fix is in place and all users should have full access to their docs,” the statement said. “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.”

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