Google docs has denied us access to a document, saying "it is in violation of our Terms of Service." We need that document! What can we do?
August 30, 2010 8:21 AM   Subscribe

Google docs has denied us access to a document, saying "it is in violation of our Terms of Service." We need that document! What can we do?

Mrs ManInSuit is working on an art/performance project with a couple of collaborators. They've been using google docs to work on shared documents. Yesterday night, one of the key documents (a list of press contacts) became unavailable. When she tries to access it, she gets the message:

"We're sorry. You can't access this document because it is in violation of our Terms of Service."

The document represents a lot of work, and she really needs this document for some work she was planning to do today. We have no idea why it would be in violation of terms of service. (It's a collection of press people to whom they plan to send a press release for an art project. So maybe it looks like a spam list or something?)

Does anyone have any ideas on how/whether she might be able to get access to this document? Of course, she's emailed google support.

Does anyone have any experience with this? Can we expect any help from google support, or is the document now gone forever? Is there some other way of getting it back we may not know about?

This really sucks - it sure makes google docs an undesirable service if google reserves the rights to make your docucments disappear because there's a bot that finds them suspect.
posted by ManInSuit to Technology (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: free version
posted by ManInSuit at 8:35 AM on August 30, 2010

Response by poster: Cray - no, not share to the world. (Are you thinking we could find a cache online somewhere if it were public?)
posted by ManInSuit at 8:42 AM on August 30, 2010

Did you try this Google Docs troubleshooting walkthrough?
posted by thewildgreen at 8:44 AM on August 30, 2010

The general approach is

1. use the contact link on the page where it says that there is a ToS violation and see if someone fixes it. [I'm not sure if this is what you mean by "emailed support"]
2. If that doesn't work, head over to the Help Forums for Google Docs and post a question. Google employees comment there fairly frequently and may be able to give you a hand.

Depending on just what information was in the spreadsheet, it may run afoul of this policy
"If we learn of shared or published content containing another person's private or confidential information, we may remove, unpublish, or unshare the reported content. For example, someone else's credit card numbers, Social Security number, unlisted phone numbers, or driver's license number would all be considered private or confidential information under this policy. Also, please keep in mind that in most cases, information that is already available elsewhere on the Internet or in public records is not considered private or confidential under our policies"
Chances are high that this information is still available and accessible, but it has been temporarily unlisted esp. if there's a "share with the world" setting on it. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 8:46 AM on August 30, 2010

I just googled 'google docs terms of service violation' and apparently you're not the only person this has happened to. There were several posts made in the Google forums about this and it doesn't seem as though any resolution was made.

I'm definitely not a tech person, but could you try googling some of the names that were in the file? If it was shared among several people, I'm guessing it was public? And out there cached somewhere?

Doesn't hurt to try.
posted by lovelygirl at 8:46 AM on August 30, 2010

Response by poster: thanks thewildgreen. Just tried that. No dice.
posted by ManInSuit at 8:47 AM on August 30, 2010

Response by poster: lovelygirl - good idea! But there were just 3 people who had access, and no one has a local copy...
posted by ManInSuit at 8:48 AM on August 30, 2010

I've had this happen to a document I've used. Not sure on turnaround time, but it eventually did get resolved (definitely less than a week).
posted by jangie at 8:49 AM on August 30, 2010

Response by poster: Does anyone know - are the folks at google generally accessible/prompt about resolving things like this? Would this typically take hours to fix? Days? Never?
posted by ManInSuit at 8:49 AM on August 30, 2010

Response by poster: jangie: Useful to know, thanks!!
posted by ManInSuit at 8:50 AM on August 30, 2010

Have you tried a non-browser application? On a mac Cyberduck claims to be able to access Google Docs, and I know on my iPad I can access GDocs with a number of applications, including Goodreader. A quick search shows an app called iGoSyncDocs which claims to do this sort of thing on a desktop/laptop using Java.
posted by monkeymadness at 8:53 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are applications that let you view your browser cache. One of the computers used to view this document may have a copy stored temporarily in the cache.

The less you use any of these candidate machines to surf between now and checking the cache, the greater your odds of the cache not being overwritten.

So, if you're desparate, you can try this route.
posted by zippy at 8:59 AM on August 30, 2010

Have you tried exporting it from the list rather than opening it in the browser?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:04 AM on August 30, 2010

It's probably a glitch, rather then an actual terms of service violation. Sometimes computers will spit out seemingly random error messages when something goes wrong.
posted by delmoi at 9:11 AM on August 30, 2010

Response by poster: It's back now! No idea why. After 14 hours or so away....
posted by ManInSuit at 9:21 AM on August 30, 2010

Response by poster: stoneweaver - I've learned a lesson, too! I'd always thought that one of the advantages of the cloud is that I don't have to run by own backups (after all - presumably google has better backup technologies than I do). But now I'll be more careful for sure.
posted by ManInSuit at 10:52 AM on August 30, 2010

Dropbox is a great free (with extra storage for $) service that does local and cloud copies across PC, Mac, Linux, iPhone and Android, and their web interface. It also allows limited access folders to other dropbox users.

I had run into similar issues with google docs and prefer this now. Only downside is that you need to get everyone to join dropbox, where as just about everyone has a google account already.
posted by fontophilic at 11:32 AM on August 30, 2010

Now that it's back, I feel like this would be an important time to mention redundancy!

Yes. There is nothing like feeling the icy fingers of Specter of Dataloss brush against your soul to inspire the paranoid urge to obsessively back everything up.

Embrace this, and use this opportunity to protect yourself.
posted by quin at 1:19 PM on August 30, 2010

Another note for future reference: as using a hosted doc service can leave you without your document when you need it (due to outage or TOS violations), and as failing to keep backups can leave you without your document when you need it (due to data loss or equipment theft), using a closed-source document format can leave you without your document when you need it (if the company stops supporting the document format.) This is a long-term storage concern, mostly, but still a valid one worth thinking about.
posted by davejay at 1:42 PM on August 30, 2010

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