Here’s an interesting story about Google file sharing: in February 2016, students of UC Berkley filed a class action lawsuit in the federal court, against Google, for illegally intercepting students’ data for advertising purposes — without any consent.

Google ran the university’s email accounts and provided students with the Google App for Education, which included both Gmail and Google Drive.

While the case is ‘settled,’ (actually, it isn’t settled. The court asked all 876 students who filed the class action lawsuit, to file their individual cases against Google), but this particular case raises a lot of questions about privacy in general.

Time and again, Google has been criticized for its privacy policy. In fact, we all know Google uses data from user devices for data mining.

And yet, we all find ourselves, working with Google’s applications and devices.

Myself included.

And who wouldn’t? Gmail is probably one of the best email services, and Google Docs has completely changed how we work and collaborate online.

But if you too use Google Drive and Google Docs, then before sharing any more files, learn about the facts that are very critical to your “privacy.”

Table of Contents:


Most users opt to share files via a link, just because it’s easier to take a single link and send it to many users, as opposed to giving each user separate access.

While you might think it’s all the same, these two options are very different from each other, when privacy gets added to the equation.

If I share a file privately with a user, I’ll need their email address, which may or may not be a hassle to get. But it’s a more secure option because only that particular user will have access to my file.

On the contrary, if I share a file through a link, then anybody with that data link can access my file, which means I have absolutely no control over who can see or not see my file, and there is no way to monitor the process.

For instance, if I send someone a Google Drive file via a link, they can quickly take that link, and share it with someone else and so on.

That is why, if you’re sharing critical data through Google, it’s always a better option to share privately.

Note: even after sharing a file using a user’s email address, that user can then share the file further.

Keep reading to know more.

2. Ownership of The File Can be Transferred

A user can also get awarded complete ownership of a shared file. To transfer ownership, go to the Share button and click on Advanced. Click on the drop down button next to a shared user and select ‘Is Owner.’

The implication of transferring ownership means the new owner gets full control over a shared file, and can also stop the previous owner from accessing this particular file.

3. Only the Owner of a File/Folder Can Delete It

Shared files are accessible from the ‘Share with me’ option on Google Drive.

All shared files only count towards the storage quota of the file’s owner. Even if you decide to delete a shared file from the list, it will still be accessible to all other users.

But, if the owner of a shared file decides to remove it, no other user will be able to access it.

The only way to get that file back is by asking the owner to retrieve it from his deleted items list.

4. Gmail Attachments Should be Sent Directly

When sharing a Google Drive file on Gmail, with a user who doesn’t have access to the data, there is a pop-up that usually comes up:

“The Drive file isn’t shared with the recipient.”

And there is a big blue button which says – Share and Send.

Now since the message is a big blue button, we just assume it is the safest and best option. Well, this isn’t an episode of Doctor Who, and blue does not always mean we are in the right place.

When you click on Share and Send, the file becomes public, and anyone with the file’s link can access it.

That is why you should always click on the ‘Send without sharing’ option, which allows Google Docs to get attached as regular files.

5. Mobile Access to Google Docs Negates Two Factor Authentication

An excellent way to keep a Google account secure is by adding Two-Factor Authentication.  

Google mobile

If you still don’t have it, I strongly recommend setting up 2FA.

Here is how to activate it.

But just for user convenience, Google allows users to bypass 2FA on mobiles, (and that is again concerning). While for personal users, it provides secure flexibility.

While for personal users, it provides secure flexibility.

But for companies, 2FA can create a big problem.

If a company uses Google Apps for Work and chooses to enforce 2FA, even then, employees can bypass 2FA on their smartphones.

6. Google’s Terms and Conditions Can Seem Confusing

Regarding all user content that is uploaded to different Google services, this is what Google’s Terms of Service states:

“Some of our Services allow you to upload, submit, store, send or receive content You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.”

Sounds pretty convincing, right? Well, wait till you read the next line.

“When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works

The rights that you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing that you have added to Google Maps)”

Basically, what Google is trying to say is “All the content uploaded by you will stay yours. But Google will get a ‘limited license’ which allows the company to use it for data mining.”

And even if files or accounts get deleted, Google will continue to use that content. Still confused? Here is the short version – Google is snooping on all its users.

7. Making a File “Read-Only” is a Bit Complicated

If I’m sharing a file that’s “read-only” with other users, then sharing gets pretty difficult to achieve, with Google’s file sharing options.

Google Drive allows several levels of file permissions, including:

View only: Users can only see a shared file, they cannot make any changes or comment on a file.

Comments only: While users still cannot make any changes to a shared file, they can leave comments.

Edit: The edit option gives users full access to a shared file

The first and most common way to make a file read-only is by ticking the ‘view only’ option. But even with this access level, any user can go to the File option and select ‘Download.’

Luckily, there is a way to disable this option.

Go to the Share option and click on Advanced. Scroll to the bottom and checkmark the option, ‘Disable options to download, print, and copy for commenters and viewers.’

And that’s how a shared file in Google becomes read-only. I would have personally preferred a simpler way to achieve this goal.

For shared file links, Google provides three options.

Notice the two incredibly confusing ‘On’ options? The first one makes a file readily available on the internet.

So, anybody can Google and access it, without logging into their Google account.

The second ‘On’ option only allows users with a file link to access it, and this option is also not secure, as I mentioned above. The best choice is just to stay away from sharing data via links — altogether.

9. Users With “Edit” Access to a File Can Give Access to More Users

Once a file is shared with the Edit permission, that user can then share the file with any number of other users, and the owner won’t even get a notification about it.

This setting is active by default, but it can get deactivated.

In the advanced sharing pane, scroll down and checkmark the option ‘Prevent editors from changing access and adding new people.’

10. Files Shared Within an Organization Can be Shared With Any Outsider

Google Apps for Work allows users to share files only within their organization.

As an example, if a company has unique domain addresses, then an admin can choose only to allow file sharing with emails that end in the company’s exclusive domain name.

But like many other options, this one isn’t activated by default, which means a company employee can share files with users outside of the organization.

Company Acquisition

To get rid of this massive privacy hole, first of all, you need admin access, from the admin console panel, so go to Google Drive’s sharing settings.

Under the option ‘Sharing outside of organization’, select Off. Now, team members will not be able to share files with any users outside the organization.

In other words, users with email addresses other than [email protected] cannot access any shared file; even with link sharing turned on.

11. When an Account is Deleted, So is The Data

If a Google account gets deleted, then all files and folders connected to it through Google Drive will also be removed.  

So, all shared files that other users may have access to will also disappear.

In case your organization uses Google Drive, make sure if an employee is leaving the company, then ownership of all the files is transferred to a different team member before the account is shut down.


In Conclusion…

If you regularly work on critical data which concerns fields like:

Law

Finance

Medicine

Computers

I would suggest not sharing files through Google and just sticking to Microsoft. On the other hand, if you’re just looking to collaborate on documents with other team members, and the data isn’t critical to your business, go for it.

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As someone writing this article in Google Docs, it’s easy to say that I do put convenience over privacy.  And yes, Google knew about this article even before it got published.

Do you have any extra tips or insights to share? Feel free to drop on by the comments section, if that’s the case, and thanks for reading till the end!

36 thoughts on “Google File Sharing: 11 Little Known Facts That Are Critical to Your Privacy”

    1. Cloudwards.net - Chief Editor

      Yeah, anyone you’ve shared with can see all the others.

        1. Cloudwards.net - Chief Editor

          Making multiple copies is probably the best and most foolproof way.

  1. I am a graphic designer and photographer and Gmail has destroyed my business. I no longer can file share. Even when I give permissions the recipient CAN NOT access the files. I am just LIVID this process is so complicated. Google has totally dropped the ball on this mess. I am at a total loss.

  2. if a person shares a file with me, and i click on “add to my drive”, then if the person deleted the file in his computer, i am aware that it will also be deleted from my shared folder. but what about from “my drive” will it also be deleted or is it that once i click on add to my drive, it makes a copy and no matter what the owner does, i will have a copy in “my drive”?

    1. Cloudwards.net - Chief Editor

      Yes, you should still have a copy. To make sure, you could consider moving it to a different folder.

  3. When I share a file in Google Drive, are the people with whom I shared it able to access the other files or folders in the same folder as the file I shared, or can they only see the file I chose to share? Is there a difference regarding this between how much access I grant them?

    1. Cloudwards.net - Chief Editor

      No, it’s limited only to the file or folder you’re sharing.

  4. hi, a few weeks ago I share a video through gmail, file was heavy so i shared via google drive. and I think I choose share and send option. now they can access my google photos back-up as well. as proof they share with me. link showed on whats app as: album archive- auto back up and some with date. URL starts with // get.google.com/albumarchieve/number etc. can you tell me how it is possible?

    1. Cloudwards.net - Chief Editor

      It’s a weird Google SNAFU. You’re going to have to manually disallow them from seeing the photos, it’s a pain.

  5. Folks, folks.. calm your horses. People moan and groan about all the data Google has on them, some go so far as to boycott Google or limit themselves to the services they can use because they refuse to create a Google account.

    If you are on the internet, guess what, if anyone cares enough they too can get data of you.

    I have every single option for data mining turned on for Google. All my activity, my locations, my history, all open for Google to track. Why? For a few reasons:
    It’s come in handy for me more times than I can count.. Knowing where I was at a specific time, or being able to search my gmail for a needle-in-a-haystack email from over a decade ago because it’s the only email that can verify account ownership or my identity somewhere, has been priceless.

    Also, browsing history dating back months has come in handy more often than I would have ever thought.

    About the only thing I don’t let Google store are my passwords, I use trust LastPass with that sensitive information..

    Besides, Google having all my data is the ONE company in the entire online eco-system that I would rather have my data than anyone else. They are open and honest with what they do.. and contrary to what some people wrongly assume, Google doesn’t make their money from selling off their data of you, rather they sell their ability to use your data for targeting for specific purposes (advertising).. They do not give their advertisers the data they have, if they did it would instantly lose it’s value, instead they sell their ability to search through your data and use it on behalf of their customers.. Just wanted that to be clear to people.

    Google Fan-girl signing off, writing this on my Chromenbook 😉

    1. Not so nice! Many people want to mantain many things private: documents about money, ID documents, nude-sex content, children info in a risk environment, and a long long etc. Letting them know “everything” is, by far, too risky. It can be useful for you, but it can also be it for thieves, fraudsters, crooks and so on. If we speak corporate, we will speak about a lot of money, risking jail, employment, bankruptcy, etc., etc. Google need to be crystal clear about MANY issues. Supose just this example: someone share with you a video of a child being abused. They don’t need your consent, just need your email. They can send you and old video, so it could be thrown into the bottom of “MyDrive”. They send it to you with a boring file name, very similar to any other normal file (“work (2).mpg”). Which will be the legal consequences of having that file in your drive? Not knowing or not having play it, demonstrate your innocence? The possibilities are huge. Huge and dangerous.

  6. If I share a file from a g suit googledocs account and set the shared file to *can edit. And the original account gets deleted. Can the person who I shared that file with still have access to it?

    1. Cloudwards.net - Chief Editor

      I have no idea, honestly. Why don’t you give it a try and post the results here?

  7. I have a slightly off-topic question. Is there a privacy-secure alternative to Google Drive and the other online collaborative Google apps? Something like DuckDuckGo vis-a-vis Google Search?

    1. Cloudwards.net - Chief Editor

      Nah, you’re going to have to go with an entirely different online ecosystem, like OneDrive or something.

  8. Why would google files and folders continue to show up in the “shared with me” section of my google drive after my email address has been deleted from the share with advanced settings of those files and folders?

  9. I shared a Google Drive file with a list of e-mail addresses some of which are not Google accounts. I know that those non-Google accounts can only view the file. Later when right click the the shared file and click the “share” icon, only the people with Google accounts are listed as my file sharer. Is this par for the course? Any way or any where I can dig up who have been on my list of file sharers?

  10. If I share a parent folder with someone, do they automatically see/have permission to every subfolder and documents within them?

    Also, if I create a new document within a folder and share only that new document with someone – will they see/have permission to the other files within that folder or just the single file I shared?

    Lastly – Basically the same question as above but with Sharing a single subfolder – will the person see/have permission to all other subfolders/parent folder?

    Thank you!

    1. Cloudwards.net - Chief Editor

      Let’s break it down: questions 1 and 3 the answer is both yes, you’ll have to manually disallow people from subfolders after sharing its parent. It’s a massive PITA, but there you go. As for question 2, only the file shared should be visible and accessible, but only if you specifically share a file.

  11. I want to share a file anonymously via Google drive, meaning i dont want people to know its coming from my account, if i share a file with a link that anyone can view can they tell its from my account?

  12. hi fergus!
    thanks for your very appreciated service here!
    also, i have a question:
    my husband put an elaborate work together and kept saving it on google drive, although i asked him not to be so trustworthy.
    have you ever heard or is there a risk of losing ownership by fraud and theft of intellectual property through google? and/or is it easy to hack these accounts for pro’s?
    thanks, ava

    1. Cloudwards.net - Chief Editor

      Not really, your husband should be fine, though you can always save it twice, maybe to Sync.com (it’s free).

  13. Is there a way to make a Google doc that I own so that I am forced to make a copy of it each time I open it? I want to preserve that original doc as a clean template.

  14. Im sharing a gsheet to some friends and im he cant copy it is there anyway to fix this? i have unticked everything in advanced

  15. I made a map of a garden trail for an event last year. When the event was over, I put it in the bin so the public who bought tickets could no longer see it. Brought it out of the bin this year to update with current information. Now event is over. So the only way to hide it from link holders is to put it back into the bin? Isn’t there a better way to take something off-line? It does not make sense for the map with custom icons, etc to be up there. Some of the locations are private gardens and people might think they are open all the time. It would be too annoying to delete it all and rebuild each year as there are photos and descriptions that go with the map pins.
    Someone said the business version of Google Drive lets you do this?

    1. ETA I tried to change the sharing to just me, but am worried that the link and QR for next year will have to be redone?

      1. Cloudwards.net - Chief Editor

        Just change the permissions back to just you, and then next year change it back to everybody again. That should work. Let us know if you have any other problems with it.

  16. OK great… so no one is going to be annoyed to be presented with the login to a google drive dialogue box vs the URL just saying not found as it did when I would put it in the bin as I did last year when it said there were/was no map at that link or something similar? I did what you said, but I don’t think I saw it properly as an incognito, as it still wanted to recognise myself, but on my husband’s machine I still got the drive login box. So am just curious what the general public will see. Thanks for the fast reply.

  17. Regarding item 7, while the checkbox disables the download, print, and copy buttons, a savvy web user can still save, copy, and print any data that shows up. If they can view it, they copy that appears on screen can be captured and used however the viewer wants.

    Be careful with what you share. Just because the copy button is gray and the ctrl+c shortcut does not work for you doesn’t mean the data is uncopyable. They protections against downloading, copying, and printing make the actions slightly more difficult but offer no true data protection against anyone able to view the documents.

  18. If I change ownership of all files from a previous employee to another google account on my domain, will it look as if the new owner actually created the file? Is there a way to search for files created by the previous employee? Right now I have the previous employees marked as suspended so that we can still get to their files but that is getting expensive as the company grows and we have turnover. Basically I’d like to keep it as is an not have to pay for that person any longer but as it is we are paying 10/mo for each suspended user.

    1. Cloudwards.net - Chief Editor

      If you transfer ownership, the original creator should still show in the version history.

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