Google Apologizes After ‘Bug’ Locks Innocuous Docs Files

Google on Thursday apologized to users who were locked out of their Docs files earlier this week, blaming the problem on a “short-lived bug.”

In a blog post, Google Product Management Director Mark Risher, said the bug “incorrectly flagged some files as violating our terms of service,” and, as a result, blocked access to them.

“Protecting all Google users from viruses, malware, and other abusive content is central to user cyber-safety and sometimes we remove access to certain files in order to provide these protections,” Risher explained. Google Docs and Drive have automatic security systems in place that scan files for viruses and malware against known samples and indicators, a process that doesn’t involve human interaction, he added.

“Tuesday’s bug caused the Google Docs and Drive services to misinterpret the response from these protection systems and erroneously mark some files as TOS violations, thus causing access denials for users of those files,” Risher wrote. Google removed the bug and worked to restore access to affected files as soon as it identified the issue, he said.

“We apologize to our users for any inconvenience this incident caused and remain committed to offering high-quality systems that keep their content safe while fully securing their files,” Risher wrote.

Having trouble accessing Google Docs? You aren’t the only one. On Tuesday morning, the service was randomly locking down files, ostensibly for violating the company’s terms of service.

Flagged documents were found to be “inappropriate,” according to the Google pop-up message. But in a statement, Google told PCMag that a fix was rolled out.

“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 said.

Google didn’t elaborate on the code push, but added “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.”

At the time of the glitch, affected documents were no longer accessible or shareable. That caused headaches for users who said their files were innocuous.

The issue underscores the risk with cloud-storage services. They’re convenient and largely reliable, but even a few hours of downtime can seriously derail a presentation, study session, or work day. So it’s a good idea to back up important files, or set up offline access.

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