Can you be Sure that your Google Docs are Private?
Google Docs is Google’s multi-lingual SaaS (software as a service) office suite. Google Docs works on most modern operating systems and browsers and allows its users to create and edit documents, spreadsheets, presentations and forms online with real-time collaboration between multiple users. Items are created within the application itself, imported through the web interface, or sent via email and can be saved to computer in a variety of formats such as RTF, TXT, PDF, DOC, ODF, XLS, etc.
Google Docs also offers Autosave and version control features. Google Docs items can have various levels of access, Private, Shared with specified users or Published to the Web. Published items again can have various access levels: they can be viewed only by the user, or by a specified group or by the whole world.
While Google Docs offers users the features of a modern office suite for free there are issues of privacy that worry experts. Though Google has promised to protect the privacy and security of users’ content, certain problems exist. For example, each image included in a document has a public address, even if the document itself is private and the image continues to be publicly available even after the document is deleted.
Recently, Google announced a change in its policy regarding published documents which will allow published docs that are linked to from a public Web site to be crawled and indexed, which means they can appear in search results. This is potentially a very exciting change as the published docs will reach a much wider audience of people. Unfortunately, many users who may have linked published documents intended for a limited audience to public Web sites for various reasons of convenience will be now taken unawares by this change in policy.
It is not immediately obvious from the Google Docs master listing which documents are likely to be affected, as there is no easy way to tell if a published document has been linked to by a Web site. For now, users will just have to go through all their documents and “unpublish” all documents that are intended to be private.