Using shared Google Docs for group collaboration certainly offers a lot of benefits, but they disappear fast if users suddenly find themselves locked out of their own documents. A number of Google Docs users recently suffered this very fate. Google explained to the Washington Post that a faulty update created a situation where a small number of Google docs were improperly flagged as abusive and thus blocked. The error has since been resolved and users once again enjoy access to their texts.
For many of those affected, however, a bitter aftertaste remains. The incident is just another reminder that any data stored in the cloud is ultimately under the control of the cloud provider, not the user. Google divulged that automated processes are used to block potentially unacceptable texts. The statement from Google indicated that the texts are not read, at least from a technical standpoint. A form of pattern recognition is instead applied to detect any violation of the Terms of Service.
Screening content for possible violations is of course nothing new; Microsoft and Google, for example, have been using image recognition software for years to help investigators detect child pornography. Texts are of course a different matter, and Google is remaining vague about the kind of text-based information being harvested for analysis. That said, it certainly cannot be in the best business interests of Google or any other cloud provider to block masses of users from using their documents, thus prompting them to look for less intrusive or disruptive alternatives.