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By Monica Chin2 hours ago
It turns out that even your private documents can be censored online. This morning, a ton of users reported being locked out of completely innocuous Google Docs for “inappropriate content.”
Google’s abuse policy prohibits the posting of serious threats, needlessly graphic or violent content, hate speech, harassment, confidential information, pornography, and anything illegal including child exploitation and copyrighted content.
Today, however, multiple users believe that the content they were locked out of did not contain prohibited material. National Geographic reporter Rachael Bale, who was locked out of a draft of a story about wildlife crime, claims that nothing in her document violated Google’s policies. “It’s about legal, but ethically dubious activity,” she tweeted.
A Google spokesperson claims that the lockouts were an error, and that the company has fixed the problem.
“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,” the company told Mashable. “A fix is in place and all users should have access to their docs.”
Google added, “We apologize for the disruption and will put processes in place to prevent this from happening again.”
Still, the incident raises important questions about the control Google Docs users have over their own content. The potential to lose access to an important document because it hasn’t yet been polished to remove certain references or sensitive material has concrete implications for the way Google Docs is used.
For many who work in media and communications, Google Docs serves as a drafting tool, allowing writers and editors to collaborate. And, of course, it’s necessary and important for writers to retain ownership of documents that are early versions of their final product — no matter how raw — so as to put a complete draft through the editorial process.
Nobody should be writing hate speech or death threats in their Google docs — or anywhere.
But if Google’s flagging system is so glitchy as to incorrectly target other content, a Google Docs user on a deadline needs to be on their toes. Bale tweeted that she no longer plans to write in Google Docs. Until Google fully resolves this issue, perhaps other journalists should follow her lead.