Google today rolled out a small but significant addition to Google Drive. In short, you now have more control over the content you distribute via the service: You can now disable downloading, printing, and copying for any shared file.
The new option is available for any file stored in Google Drive, not just documents, spreadsheets, and presentations created with Google Docs. That means if you decide to upload, say, a PDF to Google Drive, you can lock it down before you share it with your friends or colleagues.
To use the feature, open the sharing dialogue from any Google Drive file and click on Advanced in the lower right corner. Check the “Disable options to download, print, and copy for commenters and viewers” box and click “Save changes.”
Note that you can’t choose to limit one or two of the three options: If you’re disabling downloading, you’re also disabling printing and copying. On the flipside, developers can access this functionality through the Google Drive API.
There are some more restrictions you should be aware of. First off, this is only available on Google Drive for the Web (though presumably it will arrive on other platforms sometime soon).
Next, you can’t enable this feature if you don’t own the file. This makes sense: If a file is shared with you, you can’t then go ahead and disable downloading, printing, and copying for it. Being the file owner is a requirement (though if you really want, you could make a copy of the file, limit it, and then re-share it).
Finally, this feature removes all entry points for downloading, printing, and copying in not just Google Drive, but also Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides on all platforms. This is very much limited to the Google ecosystem: If you share the file via email, Google can’t help you.
A notification at the top of the File and Edit menus will let the user know a given file has been limited:
Google described the feature as “perfect for when the file you’re sharing contains sensitive information that you don’t want shared broadly or leaked.” That said, remember that you’re still sharing the file: If someone really wants, they can manually reproduce the content, or just screenshot each page.
This feature is meant as a deterrent and a reminder. It’s a way to communicate that the file owner doesn’t want the contents to be shared broadly.
“Disable options to download, print, and copy for commenters and viewers” is a neat addition, but it’s not a foolproof security or privacy feature.