The Google Docs Lockout Fiasco & The Failed Promise Of The Cloud

from the this-is-not-the-cloud-we're-looking-for dept

While it wasn’t always called “the cloud” people have been talking about and predicting the future of remote computing for the past few decades (and, sure, I know that in the early days of mainframes and terminals, that’s how things worked, but I’m talking about in the modern internet era). And some argue that we’ve now finally reached the true age of the cloud. After all, tons of people can survive with most of their documents really stored in the cloud. Indeed, for many people, they have little use for much storage on their own computers (and, sure, I know some of you will get snooty and talk about how crazy that is, but the simple fact is that many people are not like you and don’t need much in the way of local storage).

But, as I’ve said before, and will say again, I think by letting companies like Google and Amazon control “the cloud” we’ve actually missed out the real possible benefit of the cloud. The version that I had always pictured separated out the storage layer from the service layer. I’ve made this point in the past concerning online cloud music services (which are now pretty obsolete due to streaming services) where I’d prefer the ability to store all of my (legal) MP3s in one spot, and then point a music playing service at those files. Instead, every cloud music service required you to upload local tracks to servers somewhere, and you’d have to do it all over again if you switched. This is obvious lock-in for those services, but it’s a pain for end users, and diminishes the possibilities for more innovative services.

The same is true in other areas as well. And I’m reminded of this due to a bug in Google Docs that hit some people earlier this week. When people went to access their docs, they were told they were locked out due to a “terms of service violation.” This turned out not to be true (Google just fucked up in a way that “incorrectly flagged a small percentage of Google Docs as abusive, which caused those documents to be automatically blocked”). And, while this was a stupid mistake (that legitimately freaked out a bunch of people who rely on Google docs), it again highlights the problem.

Google Docs is a fantastic and useful service. But it would be a hell of a lot better if the service layer and the storage layer were separated. In the bad old days when I used Microsoft Word, I wouldn’t want that app shutting down because it thought someone wrote an “abusive” letter. Why should that even be an option in Google Docs? And why should Google run both the service and the storage part? Why can’t I store the doc somewhere else, and just point Google Docs to that storage, such that I can still get the same service, but Google has no right to deny me access to the documents I make?

Again, I understand the business logic behind this (lock-in!) and even some of the legal logic behind this (for example, in my music example, I’m sure that some would argue that a service playing from an accessible data store of (even legal) MP3s would infringe). But, out of all that, it feels like we’ve really missed out on the true promise of the cloud, in which we separate out the services from the data, and allow more and varied services to compete, without also claiming ownership and having the ability to block access to the data. This SNAFU with Google Docs only serves as another reminder of how problematic this can be.

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Comments on “The Google Docs Lockout Fiasco & The Failed Promise Of The Cloud”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: yay ownCloud

Exactly, there are a ton of options as well even for the people that can’t handle technical issues. If you have no concept of how linux works and updating, I would suggest looking at renting a Synology/Qnap box from some Colo provider as well.

The number rule though, even if you host on your own hardware or a VPS, is that backing up the data is your responsiblity and not the providers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: the cloud doesn't have to fail

Actually you’ve got it a bit off. All blockchains do is establish an ordering to events, they don’t guarantee storage. Just like things can happen in real-world history that no one remembers.

The solution to this problem is DHTs. Add clientside (strong) password encryption and no one else would have any idea what you stored — it could’ve been absolutely anything.


Re: Basic systems engineering

> many people are not like you and don’t need much in the way of local storage).

> Many people were addicted to cigarettes for the last century, that doesn’t mean society needs high rates of lung cancer/premature death.

Local storage is always fastest.

It’s also the most secure and most reliable.

It doesn’t matter how much you “need”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Old Mansick yells at cloud.

Here’s the real interest: "by letting companies … control … we’ve actually missed out". Anyone besides me spot the inconsistency with Masnick’s usual position that society must keep hands off corporate "persons" because they have Rights? He just casually mentions that "we", presumably the public, have the power to control corporations for our benefit. This is not a minor point: it proves that at other times Masnick deliberately argues for corporatism, when actually regards them as I (and every "natural" person) do: machinery that’s to be made to serve us, regulated and BEATEN ON as needed to tune them to OUR benefit.

Now. Do you even know that "SNAFU" is an acronym for "situation normal: all fouled up"? So a "SNAFU" is NOT an isolated event as you mis-used, but a wry observation of the NORMAL. Get it?

Anonymous Coward says:

By the way, WHY is Google reading your documents in first place?

Because it’s “business model” is SPYING. — And it gives NSA “direct access” according to Snowden.

Spying is not a defect of “the cloud” to Masnick, though, but the most desirable feature. Doesn’t even occur to him to rail at that because he’s essentially a spook. Just look at all the javascript that runs here for purposes of spying — euphemized as “advertising”.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

The “cloud” is the latest victim of control.
We HAVE to have a system that make sure no one is doing bad things with it. We can’t be responsible for our own actions, we demand Google be the all seeing eye that fixes it.

We expect the platform to police for us, to find a doc with bad words and lock it down before those words escape into a safe space & make children turn to sex work.

It wasn’t good enough when the crowd could report bad things on YouTube. It wasn’t good enough when the **aa’s got special access. It wasn’t enough when they demanded a fully automated system. All of these things fail at various points, the only victims are the public.

In a perfect world, there would be a magical program that filtered the world for each users preferences. We don’t live in lab conditions, we need to stop expecting miracles.

Google has a program scanning docs for bad think.
This is a horrible idea.
Someone recently was upset with my use of profanity in my posts, thinking it was beneath me. Sometimes you just have to say fuck is how I feel, I don’t think we need programs scanning my posts and using white-out on the naughty words.

People expect the platforms to be responsible, then screech when the platform fails in a spectacular way.

Twitter has to protect me from being doxxed!!!
Twitter banned Ken White for a screen shot of an email where the idiots (JLVD) sig is his address & phone number.
Wasn’t doxxing, but Twitter freaked out. (That and it appears from the gloating JLVD reported it as such).
It took just a tiny firestorm to get Twitter to undo it.

Staying with Twitter, because their fails are legendary, there was a woman who reported 3 different accounts that sent the same abusive tweet threatening to rape her IIRC.
She reported all 3 and got 3 different responses.
It’s hard to expect the platform to police what you see, when they can’t even treat a rape threat the same.

We turn things over to the opaque black boxes, then bitch when they fail. Perhaps we don’t need opaque black boxes making the decisions. We don’t get to see how the sausage is made & we sure as hell dislike the taste of it sometimes.

Unless its illegal, the platform shouldn’t try to be the parent. They suck at it because they try to please so many masters at once, and fail all of them.

We should waste less time trying to have the platforms keep us from being upset, and improving their services.

Christenson says:


Call me a curmudgeon, but there’s BIG problems here:

First, Context Matters!
For example, let me write an absolutely awful screed advocating for horrible things that nauseate everyone. This perhaps should be flagged as objectionable.

Now, let’s have Techdirt write an article about how awful it is and I am…how on earth is Techdirt gonna prove that what I wrote is as horrible as it is without taking a copy of my horrible document? Surely that wouldn’t be inappropriate. I personally *like* techdirt’s fundamentalist approach of making it easy to look at the documentation!

Second, the real value-add to the consumer is in simplification. That includes minimizing the number of different entities I have to deal with and trust, whether these are bits of hardware, internet entities, or some other social construct. So I don’t think storage will separate from service, on the one hand, because a storage provider such as google easily provides a computationally trivial service layer on top, and, on the other hand, it already is, in that if I store my microsoft word docs on google docs, it already is “just” a storage service.

Third, a great deal of the issue amounts to friction — transaction costs. It costs valuable personal energy to change providers of basically anything, and cloud services are no exception.

Personally, if it’s really important, there’s a copy around that isn’t on google docs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Stickiness

While I get the benefits of what Masnick’s suggesting, you do have a strong point. People don’t want consider the question of what services to trust, so the more you can simplify that the better in their eyes.

So if we want the former benefits we need to simplify, rather than complicate, the trust model. Fortunately solutions exist which all you need to trust is that the code you’re running has undergone independent third-party review.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Stickiness

I’m a bit worried that there are certain documents that can get a Google account blocked. What are they? If I email that to someone, will their account be disabled? Presumably Google didn’t know right away that the data was “abusive”; if I can convince people to open it, would something happen to them if Google decides it later?

Roger Strong (profile) says:

We could also make voting a service layer. Use the same protocol for likes, upvotes/downvotes, "rate as funny/insightful", product reviews, referendums and elections.

Add options and flags for authenticated vs. anonymous. Or unpaid vs. sponsored, lobbyist vs. David Cohen. Voting directly or letting Alexa / Siri / Cortana vote based on my previous history.

Authentication would be a separate service layer, with the voting layer sending it parameters for who may vote. This would allow anonymous yet authenticated votes, in elections and for SLAPP avoidance in product reviews.

These layers would be open sourced to let anyone inspect them. Consumers, corporations and political parties would have plenty of incentive to do so.

Um… I started typing this as a joke….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If Democracy was really possible Governments would never be formed in the first place, people would just agree to go with what most wanted and willfully group up to put down people willing to disrupt social equality. People actually don’t want that and instead want to be “the one” on top with all the riches and power.

Face it, you are ignorant, stupid, and prone to utopian fantasies. THAT is the unhinged wingnuttery, not the person capable of recognizing that mob rule is a bad idea!

The best case against democracy is a 5 minute conversation with the average voter…. well, like yourself for example. Average voter, thinks they know more than they actually do, and has no trouble yapping like a hurt little dog when someone stomps their stupid idea like a kid playing in a mud-puddle.

Like I said… you started AND ended as a joke… keep up the good work! You are doing a good job of proving my point than you think.

I need to start calling you Mob Rule Moron!

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "If Democracy [were] really possible"

Democracy is completely possible, as is communism, as is functional fascism. But as any real-world system can (and will) be hacked, any real-world system is going to need peripheral devices by which to reduce and patch corruption.

That is the fundamental problem with the US democracy, the people who are best served by the status quo control reform, so it never happens. (Or rather, reform does happen in tiny increments, but slower than corruption burgeons.)

And yes, one of the problems with the theory behind the US democracy is that the common civilian is not aware of his best interest (another is that he may not vote for it anyway for a sundry of reasons.)

So our challenge (those of us who want a More Perfect Union) is to figure out how to get the imbiciles (the libtards and deplorables) to govern themselves despite themselves.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

The day the cloud died...

…was the Kim Dotcom raid. It was the day that showed one corporation could and would sieze the physical servers of a cloud hosting service just because and out of spite, refuse to let clients recover their data.

Not that clouds are going to be more reliable anyway, what with huricaines and wildfire annually stomping our coasts. Maybe we can put our cloud services in Yucca valley with our nuclear waste.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: The day the cloud died...

The cloud has had other “deaths.” Like when Sun, IBM and others gave up on their set-top JavaOS boxes back in the late ’90s. These were supposed to replace PCs using built-in browsers to run server-based Java apps. Including for home users, much like WebTV.

As one reviewer put it, they came in two flavors: Anti-Intel and anti-Microsoft. They weren’t good, weren’t compatible with each other, and weren’t seen after product launch.

Chromebooks would be the successor. As is often the case, a bad implementation isn’t the death of an idea.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The day the cloud died...

I would say it should have died a long time ago when several other websites got knocked off just because their sites were hosted on same physical set of systems even though they all had nothing to do with each other.

The solution to prevent that was for the “big” providers to just tell law enforcement that they can just have full access to everything they need, just don’t go seizing servers.

If you are a small provider, you get your shit jacked… and let that be a lesson for ya too as the police drag all your shit out of the data center in a raid.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: The day the cloud died...

The Kim Dotcom raid didn’t kill the cloud.

It just showed the folly of relying on non-distributed storage architectures.

If every file were split, redundantly, across thousands of servers around the planet, there would be no way prevent access to them.

And there are proposals for doing just that.

Vikarti Anatra (profile) says:

Re: Re: The day the cloud died...

But would someone think of Children?
Somebody will post material which will be considerd CP by some AGs. Orders will be issued to TAKE!THAT!DOWN!. Not possible? Ok, MAKE it possible or corp’s CEO will go to jail until it will become possible. No corporation and just bunch of developers on github – just sue hell out of them and order github to block distribution….

Anonymous Coward says:

“people can survive with most of their documents really stored in the cloud.”

I suppose so, but why? HD space is dirt cheap these days and is much more secure while providing faster access w/o the need for an internet connection – we all know slow that can be.

“for many people, they have little use for much storage on their own computers”

I do not understand this. Are you referring to those who primarily use their cell phone for everything?

“I know some of you will get snooty and talk about how crazy that is, but the simple fact is that many people are not like you and don’t need much in the way of local storage.”

I’m not being snooty – am I? I realize that everyone is different, but this comment sounds like fake Mike.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

"for many people, they have little use for much storage on their own computers"

I do not understand this. Are you referring to those who primarily use their cell phone for everything?

Not Mike here, so just guessing. Lots of people now use their computing devices, whether smartphone, tablet, or traditional computer, primarily as a rendering device to consume things other people have made available (sometimes free, sometimes paid): music, television shows, movies, Facebook memes, etc. Even among people who use their devices to produce rather than to consume, some intentionally publish so much of what they create that thy have little use for local storage. Posting to Facebook, Google Plus, mailing lists, web forums, NNTP, etc. requires an input device, but once you hit submit, your computer could die and nobody else would notice the difference, because your post is "In The Cloud". The only uses for local storage are for backups and for content that you don’t intend to make public, and even then, some people will opt to store it "In The Cloud" (but marked private) for various reasons. Some of these reasons are good (cloud providers being theoretically more competent than ad-hoc non-technical users; ease of access from multiple devices). Some aren’t (excess faith that cloud providers would never delete your data; lack of understanding of alternatives; lack of understanding of drawbacks).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Even among people who use their devices to produce rather than to consume, some intentionally publish so much of what they create that thy have little use for local storage.

1) There is often a difference between published version, and current development version, with local storage being useful for the latter.

2) Try any long period without Internet connectivity, such as a long flight, and the value of local storage becomes apparent.

3) Note that the major tool of public software development, GIT, relies on local storage for working copies, and cloud copies for publication.

4) When multiple files have to be repeatedly processed, components for cad models, libraries for software development, local files are faster than remote files.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Things are still evolving...

…come back in 15 years. I suspect we’ll see a whole new model of computing – that may well support separated storage and service layers.

As long as innovators are permitted free entry into the market, things will evolve toward a robust system that does what customers want.

Eventually. These things take time.

And if free entry is allowed – that’s what we need to keep fighting for.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Cloud is for convenience, assume "0" security

One might suggest a resource called SpiderOak that was recommended by someone called Snowden that may or may not be actually secure, but has worked for me since Mr. Snowden recommended it. I keep simple things, so am on the free service, but their rates seem comparable to others, and encryption is part of the service. In addition, I keep some information that I like to pass from one system to another (dual boot Linux and Windows) and is enabled with SpiderOak Hive, which keeps the contents updated between installations.

A potential solution which I have no connection with, other than as a satisfied user…since Mr. Snowden recommended it. They claim encryption, though I have never had to deal with it other than entering my ID and password, but I believe them. Like my VPN, I do not think they have logs, and the backups are automatic, after figuring out how to stay within ones service limits (aka what one paid for, and as I am on a free service it is limited to several gigabytes).

One would need to query them to find out how exposed one might be should some agency or another comes a knockin’. To me, however, encrypted means encrypted as in there are 6500 phones the gobmint couldn’t get into, not that anything I store on SpiderOak would be even an embarrassment to me, or illegal.

Anonymous Coward says:

There is no profit in just providing storage, the money is in the service.

Just like ISPs don’t want to just be “dumb pipes” because there is no (or not as much) profit in that, no one wants to just be storage.

AWS is the largest player and even they are getting out of the storage game and becoming more of a service.

Simple fact is, there is little profit in just storage and investment chases return.

Ken Coul (user link) says:

That's all sad

I’m pretty sure that this is only a the tip of the iceberg. And now think about this: suppose you are running all your reporting in cloud services (for example Google). Some day (hopefully not soon), personal information will be allowed for selling to third parties. Google is the company that is trying to earn money, like any other commercial organization. Imagine that in the cloud you kept contacts of your business partners, drawings of your developments, etc.
The advantage of the digital age is offset by the collection of personal information of any kind and the fact that your personality is anonymous no more. You can use a safe to fold your files in an old-fashioned way, which is meaningless.
This world is still far from perfect. In front of the eyes of monitors and televisions that they are not allowed to see: (

Vikarti Anatra (profile) says:

There are solutions to this. Just use services which are NOT in business selling you cloud STORAGE.
– Synology is in business selling hardware – they have Audio Station which stores your MP3s on your local NAS and provide ‘Cloud’ experience, including mobile streaming apps. It’s rather user friendly.
– Plex – in business selling…well, service (but most of code runs locally, it can run totally local but it will be difficult to use cloud functions). Both audio and video files are supported (DRM is not supported). Data is stored on your local NAS/Mac/PC. They also recently made ‘Plex Cloud’ so you could use your existing Dropbox/GDrive/etc account as storage. It’s very user friendly.
– OwnCloud – totally free solution but for people who are ok with renting their VPS and configuring. Can do a lot of things but
– Ampache. Some assemly required (but less than for OwnCloud, it’s more specialized thing)

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