Tackle the Tech

Parent Alert! Porn Spam on Your Kid’s Google Drive?! 3 Things You Need to Know Now

**UPDATE-July 28, 2021** Google FINALLY made changes so that you can block people in Google Drive! Porn can still end up on your kid's Google Drive, but at least you can block the account from sending more. Read on to learn more about the threat and what you CAN DO!

Do your kids have a Chromebook or a Google account for school or personal use? If so, they also have access to Google Drive.

And that means your kids may have a direct and unfiltered path for predators to send them sexually explicit material. 

Unfortunately, there is no immediate fix in sight.

First, what is Google Drive?

Google Drive is an online file storage service created by Google. It allows you to store files in the cloud (online rather than using your local hard drive), share files with others for editing, and synchronize files across all your devices. It’s a useful tool for both work and school.

What are people reporting about Google Drive?

On the Google Drive Help forum a search for “Google Drive” and “spam,” yields many threads devoted to Google Drive’s pornography problem. 

Here’s just a sampling:

“Getting unsolicited and sexually explicit spam files shared with me every day now. It will automatically show up in my drive, and show a preview of the document's image. There is no way to prevent this from happening in advance - only to report abuse afterwards. Seeing that other users are posting the same thing elsewhere, but wanted to call this out as "blocking spam files" as opposed to "restricting sharing" to get the correct resources working on it. Google: please help - this sucks in the age of daily screen sharing video calls - makes us all look very bad."

Google Community Help Poster

 “I've had Google Drive for years, and only in the last month or two started getting these porn spam PDFs shared to me. It's only been two so far, but it's extremely aggravating, and from what others are sharing, I doubt I've seen the last of it. There has to be a way to stop/block this kind of thing. I had no idea I could receive anything via Google Drive from someone I didn't know until this happened. I'm heavily invested in all things Google, but this may prompt a family reevaluation. This is unacceptable.”

Shared on Google Drive Help

 “Every single day…I’ve tried blocking, reporting, removing, and they keep coming. I don’t know what else to do besides deleting my Google account.”

Shared on Google Drive Help

How is pornography getting into Google Drive?

The file sharing system for Google Drive is the problem. When someone sends you a file or folder to your account, you don’t have to give permission to the sender to put it in your Google Drive – it automatically shows up. All someone needs is your Gmail account and you can be sent anything from anyone, including pornography!

The Google Drive app will send your phone a notification that someone has sent you a file. In this case, the sender has a fake or anonymous username and the file is named “Private Massage.”

Source:  Protect Young Minds Reader (shared with permission)

Even if you delete this notification message on your phone, that does not remove the unwanted file or folder in your Drive. It is already in the “Quick Access” area of your Drive, as well as in the “Shared with me” section. 

Can you remove the porn file without opening it?

Yes and no. You can right-click the file and choose “remove.” That will keep it from showing up in the “Shared with me” section, but it will continue to show up in the Quick Access area as well as in the search results for your Drive.

There is one additional problem with shared files on Google Drive. If you are given a “View” only permission by the spammer, then you can’t remove yourself from the share. You can check your privileges with the file by right clicking on the file and then clicking “View Details.”

Some attempt has been made to address this issue in the tech world, but the solutions are mostly cosmetic. Shared files on Google Drive are risky and Google itself needs to offer real solutions.  That requires them to do the coding work.

Google is on the National Center on Sexual Exploitation's 2020 Dirty Dozen List. Learn more and add your voice to the call for change here.

How to report an unwanted file to Google

Google’s Terms of Service has a list of violations that can be reported for abusive content. 

They also have a process to report a violation:

  1. On a computer, go to drive.google.com.
  2. Right-click the file you want to report. Click Report Abuse.
  3. Choose the type of abuse found in the file. Each abuse type has a description to help you determine if the file has violated Google’s policies.
  4. Click Submit Abuse Report.

Note:  There is no guarantee that the file will be removed and numerous people on the Google Drive Help Center have reported not having their concerns addressed even after reporting the content.

Can you block an account from sharing files with you?

When this article was originally published, you could not block accounts from sending spam files to you. As of July 2021 Google has made it possible to block people in Google Drive. This means you (and your kids) may still get porn spam, but you will at least be able to block the owner of those files--making it so you won't see any of their files in your Drive. Keep in mind you may still get new spam from a different account, but at least you can prevent repeated spamming from the same account.

How to block someone from Google Drive on a computer:

  1. Go to drive.google.com.
  2. Right click on a file.
  3. In the menu, click Block {email}.
  4. In the window, click Block.

For instructions for Android, iPhone or iPad go here.

Is Google brushing off the porn problem with their Google Drive?

According to Google, this problem was put on their “high priority” list back in 2019!

Many Google Drive users have offered a simple solution: the file sender must first send a “request to share” notice to the recipients’ email box. If the address is not known to the recipient, she can block it with a filter or reject the share request.  Otherwise, she can accept the share and view the document in her Google Drive. This should all happen before the file ever shows up in Google Drive.  

“I can no longer lend my phone to the kids because of these disturbing notifications and scared they'll open it. Worse of all is I'm paying for Google drive and yet, no matter how many times I report it, they're just brushing it off like it's no big deal. How hard is it to put an option to turn off sharing from non-contacts?! Just think of how many kids have probably even been getting these things.

Google Drive user

What can you do as a parent?

Right now, there is nothing you can do to block or filter the porn or spam from finding its way to your child’s Google Drive. 

Treat it as a “high risk” software that needs to be closely monitored. With very young children, you may want to avoid it altogether until Google puts sensible safeguards in place.

If your kids have to use Google Drive for school, here are some tips:

1. Talk to children about your family’s “safety strategy.”

The Google Drive porn blackhole is another instance of “Whack-a-Mole.”  It’s exhausting keeping up with all the latest developments that can harm your child! 

That’s why it’s so important to help kids develop an internal filter.

Sometimes bad content will get through, whether at school or at home. Creating a plan in advance teaches your child what to do when that happens.

Tips for creating and using a family safety plan:

  • Develop a plan (or just use the CAN DO plan above-why reinvent the wheel?)
  • Include a simple definition of pornography and specific steps for what to do when encountering pornography.
  • Teach and practice.
  • Remind kids they can come to you with any problem they have. You are there to help them come up with healthy solutions.
  • Stay calm. When your kids share with you that they’ve been exposed to pornography, stay calm. Thank them for telling you. Praise them for following the plan. Then use it as a learning opportunity.

2. Secure your child’s Google account and devices as much as possible

Let’s face it: Google is big and the porn problem is bigger. That being said, there are still some things you can do to secure your child’s account. 

Note: Some of these features may not work on school accounts as they don’t always allow for third party controls. See below for more info on school accounts.

3. Find out what safety measures are in place on school accounts

If your child is using a school account, it’s most likely being filtered. And most school accounts don't allow users outside the school system to send files. But that doesn't mean they won't get something inappropriate from another student. And it’s a good idea to check with the school to see what safety precautions are in place.

Here are some tips for school accounts and school-issued devices:

  • See what’s already in place: On your school district website, search “Acceptable Use Policy” (AUP) or filtering. This should give you an idea of what filtering is on your child’s school accounts and devices. 
  • TIP! Computer/Device Level Filters: Look for a specific list of what the filters cover. It may be different than your family expectations. 
  • TIP! Internet Level Filters: Only applies when kids are using the device at school or logged into the school’s system.
  • Find out what you can add: If you aren’t comfortable with the protections in place by the school, see what the policy will allow you to add (like a filter or monitoring tool, like Bark). 
  • Monitor use at home: Chromebook Safety 101: 5 Easy Tips for a Better School Year has some great tips no matter what device you’re using.

Thanks to our valued reader for tipping us off on what’s been happening with Google Drive. While it’s not a new problem, there seems to have been a recent surge in porn spam. Please let us know if you’ve discovered any tips to help keep your Google Drive activities safer! We’ll keep you posted if there are any new developments.

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