A lot of people are always skeptical about storing information on the Internet because of privacy concerns, and that is perfectly understandable. But we’re constantly being told that our data is safe like with this statement in the Google Docs help section:
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.
Ralf Scharnetzki discovered a way that Google is not protecting a user’s privacy as much as they should. It all stems from the fact that Google Docs is not exactly a real word processor, and handles images differently than a user may expect. When you insert an image into a document it is given an URL so that it can be displayed on the document that you’re working with, but on a real word processor the images are saved within the document itself.
So what does this mean? When you delete a document from your computer the images associated with it are also erased. With Google Docs that is not the case. Ralf created a document on Google Docs and embedded an image in it. Using a little trick (which he discusses in his video demonstration) he was able to get the URL of that image. Despite never sharing or publishing the document, Ralf noticed that once he had the URL of the image he would always have access to it. He even tried completely deleting the document from Google Docs and the image was still available.
He has a whole tutorial (both video and screenshots) written up on what he did, but it can all be summed up by this image. That is the image that he embedded into his document which was deleted nearly 3-weeks ago. Being able to view that image means that Google hasn’t fixed the problem yet, so it is a good thing if that link is broken.
This really makes you wonder whether any of your stuff is ever deleted, or whether it is just hidden from your view. When you delete an email, is it really gone? When you remove an image from Picasa Web Albums, do they really delete it from their servers?