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July 30, 2007

Google Documents Can't Be Deleted Entirely

One of the main concerns people have about web applications is security. If I store my documents online, can anyone have access to them without my explicit approval? Can I store personal information securely?

Google Docs promises to protect the privacy and security of your content: "Rest assured that your documents and spreadsheets will remain private unless you publish them to the Web or invite collaborators and/or viewers. Once you're logged in, you can grant access to whomever you'd like. Until then, your documents and spreadsheets are private."

But Ralf Scharnetzki found that things are not that bright. Each image included in a document has its own public address, even if the document is private. What's more, if you delete the document and remove it from "recycle bin", the image is still available.

So Google Docs treats images as independent entities, separate from the documents. In fact, the documents from Google Docs are just HTML files that reference external images. In most word processing file formats, the images are a part of the document and can't be accessed if the document is password-protected.

Ralf raises an interesting problem: "How can we talk about privacy on the Web if we can NEVER be sure that our private content (like mails, draft mails, documents) will be ever finally deleted from any of the services out there today?" Of course deleting a document and all of its backups takes time, but it would be nice to know if it does happen.


  1. >> One of the main concerns people have
    >> about web applications is security.

    very true. And Google Documents would be a lot better with an additional layer of security. Despite Google's promises of privacy for your documents, most people are wary of storing personal information there. That's because as soon and as long as they are logged into their Google account, the private data is exposed, one click away.

    You forgot to log out of a public computer? You have the "remember-me" option checked and you lent your computer to someone? All your data is available to them. Google Documents should allow you to set certain documents apart as being more secure, therefore requiring an extra password check to access them.

    I blogged about it here.

  2. same thing happens on blogger and picasaweb.

  3. When you delete a Blogger post, there's an option (enabled by default) to also delete the images. Google says the images will be deleted in less than 24 hours, but I didn't check if it's really true. I deleted a Blogger post and I'll tell you tomorrow if the images are still available.

  4. So why don't Google just make the images part of the HTML document?

    It's possible to embed images within the HTML code using the data: URL scheme.

    Or they could offer the option to do this.

  5. >>It's possible to embed images within the HTML code using the data: URL scheme.

    Yes they could, but imagine that you have to load a 5-10MB HTML file, how good would that be? I suppose that a lot of browsers will crash right away.

  6. They wouldn't need to make the images part of the HTML document. They could just find a way (via XML or many other methods) to associate images or other media with a document, and upon the document's deletion, make sure the associated media is removed as well.

    Seems like a very easy fix. I wonder if there's some reason they don't delete them already.

  7. Two days later, the image from my Blogger post is no longer available. Google promised it will take less than 24 hours.

    The images from Google Docs are still there and I don't think there's a way to remove them.

  8. I left a comment on the original post, but I'll post the gist of it here too. Some Googlers asked me to post their response to the post, so I am:

    "Because Google Docs and Spreadsheers (GDS) is often used for posting content to external websites (e.g., via our blog publishing feature), images linked to by GDS are maintained so that we don't break any external sites that might be displaying them.

    However, we hear clearly that users want more control over images, so we're working on adding a feature to provide this control. In the meantime, please contact GDS support and we will be happy to purge images from your account."

    So this issue is on their radar.

  9. My biggest concern with Google Documents is that Google is a high-profile target for hackers. I am not confident that my private documents will remain that way.

    The ability to password protect a document would help considerably. I want my document stored on Google's server encrypted with the key being the one-way encrypted version of my password. That way if you don't know my password, your not going to be able to get at my content unless you have the resources of a major government.

    I want my document decrypted after it reaches my computer, so it can't be sniffed. I want my changes to be encrypted before they leave my computer, for the same reason. No clear text going over the wire or being stored at Google. Until I "publish" that is, at which point the encryption would be dropped.

    Until this level of security is implemented I won't use Google docs for anything remotely sensitive.

  10. Olorin, You make valid points, but I think you're being a bit melodramatic. For example;

    > I want my document decrypted
    > after it reaches my computer,
    > so it can't be sniffed.

    Try SSL...

    > your not going to be
    > able to get at my content unless
    > you have the resources of a major
    > government.

    Or a halfway decent pw cracker along the lines of John the Ripper...

  11. Dear all,

    I was searching on the internet info about deleted google documents.
    My problem is a little different.
    I deleted a document and emptied the recycle bin.
    But just after I realized that part of that documentwas very important, and I need to try every possible route to retrieve it.
    Any suggestions?

  12. Once you delete a document and empty the trash, you can't recover it. You should always backup important documents on your computer (this tool might be helpful).

  13. hey can someone help me how to recover a deleted file from google docs....please its kinda urgent. my thrash is even empty. please...any help !!!!

  14. Hi

    I seem to have lost on document on my google docs account. Is there anyway of recovering it (it is not in the trash)?

  15. Hey! People!

    I want to delete some of my oldies contacts from my google docs account. Can someone help me with that?

  16. regarding google docs file deletion.
    i have lost a spreadsheet on google docs, that i didn't delete it and out of the sudden i login to my google docs and i can't find it at all. it's very very important spreadsheet for me and it's not password protected or encripted as long as i am login to my gmail i could access all the sheets in that file. how can i retreive the images of a lost file so i could retreive the content on this file??? everyone's input would be highly appreciated. it's an urgent and crucial matter that i need help with.


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