Google Workspace, formerly G Suite, provides a comprehensive set of collaboration tools, including the ever-popular Google Docs. With this tool, Google Workspace users can create documents and share them with colleagues, customers, and business partners. The document’s creator has the ability to name editors and change collaborators’ permissions, including the ability to download, print, or copy the text.
Google Docs is a valuable tool – when all collaborators understand exactly how it works. The first thing to remember is that a document’s creator is the owner and retains the power to move or delete it. Unfortunately, some collaborators learn this the hard way when a document they are counting on to be there is missing the next time they go to a shared file. If the creator deletes or moves the file to a protected folder, collaborators will no longer have access to it. See what happens when a G Suite user is suspended or deleted?
When you’re depending on the information in Google Docs to be accessible to members of your organization in the long term, it’s crucial to ensure that someone with your domain (i.e., firstname.lastname@example.org) created it. It’s also smart to have an administrator ensure that the ownership of files and folders belongs to a permanent email address within the organization rather than, for example, a temporary employee whose email will be decommissioned at the end of the summer.
If a business partner creates a document for you, such as an attorney preparing a contract template, it’s important to make a copy and save it as its owner. Even better, create documents when you can and share them with your consultants, partners or customers. You can ask them to add text and edit your document -- rather than taking the chance that you’ll lose vital information because the document belongs to them.
Another important reason to claim the role of creator with shared Google Docs is to ensure you can thoroughly investigate data breaches. If you aren’t the document’s creator, unfortunately, you won’t have the auditing and logging data your security incident response team needs to find where the data loss occurred.
Even if you retain ownership of Google Docs for your organization, your team may not be using best practices to protect them. One area that you may be overlooking is how your employees grant permissions. It’s easy to give all collaborators carte blanche Docs; however, depending on the contents of those documents, it may create risk. If you allow people outside your organization to share your Docs, you lose control of who sees and, perhaps, who can copy and print your content. Your business partner may have a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) with your business to protect sensitive information or intellectual property. However, the new collaborator may not.
Also, when you share a link to a Google document, you have the option to enable anyone in your organization to view, comment on or edit the document, but you can also remove all restrictions from the link so that anyone that clicks has access to your document. Sometimes it’s easiest to click “anyone on the internet with this link can view,” but that means if a hacker gains access to your partner’s email or files, your doc would be totally unprotected.
Although you can collaborate in a Google Doc (as well as a Google Sheet or Slides file) with up to 100 people, it can create a “too many cooks” situation that doesn’t benefit your project. Instead of making everyone an editor in the document, it may be beneficial to use Google forms to collect feedback rather than via edits on the document itself.
Throughout 2020 when teams dispersed, and more people worked from home to help control the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Google Docs provided a convenient way to share information and collaborate. For many people, it’s now second nature to create a Doc, share a link, and grant permissions. Your employees may also rely on Google Docs as a place to store or even create an archive of information. Even though Docs are engrained in many workflows, it’s important not to lose sight of how this tool works as well as the measures you need to take to ensure your data is safe and will be there when you need it. When it comes to your business’ IP, content, and data -- always maintain control.
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