Google Docs Sharing – Unsharing Documents is Impossible

(Caution: This is a venting-rage post… there is some technical merit to this, but it’s mostly me going insane using Google Docs sharing facility)

For the last 3 days I’ve been trying to un-share a large set (About 100) Google Docs that are shared with me that I no longer need access to.

For 3 days…

I’ve come to the conclusion that Google writes good software in theory, but in reality has produced a wonderfully buggy piece of sh…oftware and has been put on this earth to drive me absolutely insane.

Google doesn’t seem to believe in “error messages” in their software, so what you get are messages like “Folder XYZ has been hidden” while you are sitting there staring at it. Here are the types of problems I’ve been running into:

  • One At a Time: You cannot manage access to multiple docs at once – just one at a time.
  • Cannot Unshare Yourself: You cannot easily say “I no longer want access to these docs” when selecting a group of docs that are shared with you.
  • ‘Remove’ Does not Work: Hypothetically you can, by selecting multiple files and pressing “Delete”, Google Docs will ask you “These 17 items cannot be erased because you do not own them, but they can be removed. Do you want to do that?” Go ahead and say “Yes” and see what happens — the docs disappear, and 5 secs later after the next refresh cycle, they re-appear in your account.
  • ‘Shared’ is Defined Multiple Ways: Sharing all the contents of a folder causes the FOLDER to be shared. This sounds minor, but it’s resulted in a frustrating cycle of bullshit for me. I made another person at the company the owner of all these docs — MANUALLY, 1 doc at a time — when I was done, suddenly the folder *I* had created to organize these docs into was shared with him and I no longer could delete it. Now suddenly this folder that *I* created is linked between our accounts even though I never wanted it to be.
  • Sharing a Folder Ads you to Doc-Access List: I manually walked through all 100 docs removing myself from the share list, setting my permissions to “none”, after an hour and a half I was finally rid of all those docs. When my co-worker made me the owner of the containing folders again so I could remove them so I didn’t have empty, un-removable folders sitting in my account — I was sudden re-added to all the mother-loving document access-lists again… the ones I had JUST removed myself from one-at-a-time.

To summarize this another way: There appears to be no way to cleanly unshare documents from Google Docs.

As of right now, every single document that I unshared with myself yesterday was re-shared with me today because Google Docs had placed my own personal folders into a locked-state shared between my account and my co-workers account that required them to live… I was unable to erase them even when they were no longer shared.

Keep in mind, I never shared my folders with him, this was something Google Docs decided to do.

I’m seething with frustration and rage at the moment trying to figure out how to get these goddamn docs out of my account without needing to do Google’s job for them and write a utility that does it using the GDocs API.

This would be solved via the Google Docs interface with any of the following:

  • Don’t assume that sharing folder contents should share the folder itself and adjust folder-ownership accordingly.
  • Allow the “See who has access” dialog to be smart enough to display a differential of all selected docs (not just 1 at a time) and allow you do a check/uncheck all. Your “Move to Folder” dialog ALREADY does this with the partial-state of docs displayed with a slash.
  • Provide a “I no longer want access” functionality to the user that material is shared WITH so they can remove themselves from shared material they don’t want.
  • Make the “Remove” operation ACTUALLY work and not show a successful tooltip just to have all the god-blessed items just show up on the next refresh.

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12 Responses to Google Docs Sharing – Unsharing Documents is Impossible

  1. Ian February 5, 2010 at 6:47 pm #

    Agreed. Everything looks fine at first glance until you need to something slightly outside the box. This Docs thing is cool, but leaves much to be desired. I shared a folder and ran into the same thing–how to “unshare” 79 documents. WTF?

    • Riyad Kalla February 6, 2010 at 3:13 am #

      Yeeees exactly right Ian, that’s what we got into at work. Share-and-share-a-like, then the 1 day we decide to unshare… you realize the sharing system is so lacking it just cannot be done.

      We even tried moving everything into folders then managing sharing on the folders, but as mentioned there is this perverse relationship between folder share state and the individual contents that sometimes-sorta is bidirectional, but not really.

      The net-net is that I still have 131 docs shared with me that I don’t need, and it makes my GDocs account useless to me. Like sitting down at my work desk with 25 notebooks from other people’s desks stacked ontop of it for no other reason than Google didn’t think the whole sharing thing all the way through forward and back… just forward.

  2. Geoff February 6, 2010 at 9:32 pm #

    I’ve just been through this unsharing nightmare too. Google Docs access control is rubbish. It is permissive by default, buggy, unintuitive and convoluted. Google Docs just does not live up to expectations. I find it hard to accept that with all their resources they can’t make this work well… and don’t get me started on their idea of UI design.

    • Riyad Kalla February 7, 2010 at 7:13 am #


      It really is staggering to me as well, it’s not like they don’t have multiple models of doc-sharing to pull from. Operating systems, file systems, online file-sharing networks like Dropbox, MobileMe… the list goes on into infinity. I would have just copied or Dropbox’s model and everyone would have instantly understood it… instead they created some half-sorta-but-not-really sharing model that no one really understands… because it doesn’t make sense.

      Argggg…. I still have 130 docs shared with me weeks later that we cannot get rid of.

  3. Patrick O'Riley March 19, 2010 at 1:31 pm #

    I doubt you’re still having this problem but for anyone else that finds your page with a quick google search, I wanted to share my discovery.

    If the undeletable documents are in a folder with stuff you need. Make a new folder called “Stuff I Need” move the keepers to the new folder. Rename the folder the evil files are in, “Bullshit”

    If the undeletable documents are not in a folder, make a folder called “Bullshit” and move them to that folder.

    Then delete the bullshit folder.

    I just got that to work and they still haven’t come back four minutes later. It really works no matter what you name the folder. I was just upset, and I can’t promise any name other than Bullshit will produce the same results.

    • Riyad Kalla March 19, 2010 at 5:12 pm #


      I never did fix this, I just stopped using my Google Docs accounts — if this works I will marry you.

      Giving this a try…

      • Riyad Kalla March 19, 2010 at 5:22 pm #

        No luck, I just think my setup is totally fucked and gdocs will always be broken for me… I can delete anything and have it hidden or unshared from me… the folders are deleting it seems (or hiding rather, until I expand “Folders Shared with Me”, then they pop back into the master list… awesome UI design!) but under “All items” everything always shows forever…

        What would fix this entire problem is if selecting multiple items and choosing “Show access” actually gave you a list to manipulate and you could *remove yourself* — that’s the one thing causing all my dismay… is that I cannot remove myself.

        I hate google docs.

  4. Kate January 15, 2013 at 5:21 am #

    This is driving me crazy as well. I am a writer for this company that requires from me to use google docs and share them with five managers. After two years of doing this, I have hundreds of texts that I no longer need or want when I open my documents.

    I cannot even move them, because google says they will lose the ability to see those docs. And they paid for them, so I don’t want to mess with that.

    It takes me forever to find the stuff I need for my new clients and all that would not be happening if I could just REMOVE MYSELF FROM THE F***ING DOCUMENT!

  5. Pat Price March 7, 2014 at 9:48 am #

    Like most things, planning is necessary. Google has apparently omitted a lot of functionality and I’m sure it is on a lsit somewhere, to-do, but that does not help me. So, here is what i have done.

    If you’re happy to remove individual sharers from a document do it the way Google lets you do it now.

    If you want to share with the masses and unshare from the masses, this works for me. Share a folder with the large group. When ready, drop the document into the fodler.

    Un-Share or unshare or remove sharing en-masse:
    Drag the document out of the shared folder to an unshared folder, G will warn you that people will not be able to see, and that is exactly what I want, so … done.

    I have just started doing this, so no doubt the process could be improved. I think I might start naming document shared with my groups, typically 20-70 people, by names that reflect the group they are shared with.

    I recognize that I will still have to tailor folder access. To unshare a folder, create and name appropriately a new folder (don’t share it) and drag ALL the documents from the shared folder to the unshared folder and remove the shared folder.

    It may be a bit kludgy but it gets the job done and beats bitching about it. I do enough of that already XD.


    • Michael March 14, 2014 at 10:38 am #

      This is a good work around for revoking shares from users with whom I share documents. I’m still having issues removing or unsharing documents that have been shared with me.

      I’m in a school setting and I’ve started having students share their documents with teachers as a way for teachers to see and comment on “rough drafts” as they happen. This also facilitates turning in the final assignment without having to remember to upload or email a final draft.

      After a few semesters, a teacher can accumulate a wealth of assignments that consume a good bit of allotted drive space. Removing oneself from a shared document seems to work very differently depending on how it was shared.

      In some cases, removing oneself from the shared list does not remove the document. In some cases, removing the document from my drive deletes it from the owner’s drive. On rare occasions, it works as desired and removes the share from my drive while preserving the owner’s access.

      The inconsistency is confusing and potentially dangerous for data.


  1. The Buzz Media - January 20, 2010

    Google Docs Sharing – Unsharing Documents is Impossible –

  2. Private Krankenversicherung - January 2, 2014

    Google Docs Sharing…

    Wohh just what I was searching for, appreciate it for putting up….

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