Prevent files in Google Drive from being downloaded, printed, and copied

prevent files in google drive from being copied, downloaded and printed
When sharing files on Google Drive, choosing Viewer permissions seems like the best way to protect your file and prevent unauthorized changes and comments. But the truth is, even then your data might not be protected from duplications and edits. In this article, we're diving into the nitty-gritty of file protection in Google Drive, exploring how to go beyond the basic settings to ensure your files remain single copies.

Table of Contents

How to prevent your files from being downloaded, printed and copied (Google Drive user version)

To prevent your files in Google Drive from being downloaded, printed and copied:

Select one or more files in Google Drive, click Share.

google drive share file screenshot

In the top right corner click on the gear icon.

google drive screenshot sharing settings

Uncheck the box “Viewers and commenters can see the option to download, print, and copy.”

google drive screenshot sharing settings allow to download copy and print

How to set the default settings to prevent files in Shared drives from being downloaded, printed, and copied (Google Admin version)

If you have access to the Google Admin Console, you can prevent files in Google Drive from being downloaded, printed, and copied by default.

Log in to Google Admin Console, go to Apps → Google Workspace → Drive and Docs.

screenshot of google admin console google workspace google drive

Go to Sharing settings:

google admin console shared drive sharing settings

Go to Shared rive creation and click Edit:

Uncheck the box “Allow viewers and commenters to download, print, and copy files” and click Save.

Google Admin Console allows you to change this setting per organizational unit. This means that when people in a specific OU create shared drives, this will be the default setting. The setting won’t change if a shared drive is moved to a different OU. 

Changing this setting affects only new shared drives. Existing shared drives will not be affected by this change.

How to restrict downloading, printing and copying in an existing shared drive (Google Admin version)

To restrict downloading, printing, and copying of files by commenters and viewers in an existing shared drive, log in to the Google Admin Console, go to Apps → Google Workspace → Drive and Docs → Manage Shared Drives.

screenshot of google admin console - manage shared drives

Select the shared drive you want to limit, click on Settings and uncheck the box “ Allow viewers and commenters to download, print, and copy files” and click Done.

Now this setting will be disabled for all files in this shared drive, and the end user will not be able to turn it on. They will see the message “Commenters and viewers can’t download, copy, or print files in this shared drive”.

screenshot of notification in Google Drive that file sharing setting is disabled

Disabling this setting for an entire shared drive, or for all shared drives created in a specific organizational unit might not always be the best approach. Security must not come at the cost of collaboration, because when end-users are not able to do their job due to inadequately strict security regulations, they usually find a workaround that may be even less secure.

For example, at first glance the HR shared drive seems an ideal candidate to restrict all downloading, printing and copying of files, because HR often operates with sensitive information: salaries, employee evaluations, personal details of employees, and more. However, at the same time, HR also shares important non-confidential information with employees: company policy updates, announcements, holiday dates, and so on. It makes sense to share these with employees with the Viewer permissions, to prevent unauthorized edits and comments in the files. But employees may want to download the files to save them for future reference, and restricting this could lead both employees and the HR department to look for an alternative way to share these.

Rather than applying the restriction universally to an entire shared drive, you may want to prevent downloading, printing and copying only for certain files that are likely to contain confidential information. You might want to enforce restrictions only for files older than 3 months, those with a specific keyword in the title (e.g., ‘Contract’), or those labeled with a certain Drive label (e.g., ‘Confidential’). You may even go further and fine-tune the restriction to apply only to files shared with particular users, groups, or domains.

How to prevent downloading, printing and copying for many Google Drive files at once

Google Admin Console currently does not provide the flexibility to manage the setting to allow viewers and commenters to download, print and copy files in bulk on a more granular level than per shared drive. But don’t worry, we got your back!

In Florbs File Security for Google Drive tool, you can click on any tile that summarizes file sharing stats in your organization. For example, “Public access”, which will take to a list of all files shared with “Anyone with the link”, or “External access” – all files that are shared outside your organization. 

Florbs Google Drive Audit Overview screenshot

This will take you to Audit files section. Alternatively, you can start here, and combine filters to find the files you want to prevent from being downloaded, printed and copied.

audit google drive files florbs screenshot

Select the files you want to manage and click on Manage files.

This will take you to Bulk file management section.

For example, in the screenshot below we are changing the setting for all files that are shared with “Anyone with the link”.

bulk action prevent google drive files files from being downloaded, printed, and copied (1)

You can also start directly in the Bulk management section an select the files you wish to manage using criteria (e.g. for all files with the label “Confidential”, do not allow downloading, printing, and copying.

The action will be added to the history log with the overview you added for transparency and accountability of all actions in the app.

bulk file management in google drive

Done! You can also add this action as a security workflow, to be automatically applied to all files that meet your criteria in the future. That saves you time and effort, ensuring that all future files are always protected without delay.

Interested to learn more about best file security practices in Google Drive? Check out our white paper: File Security in Google Drive: A Comprehensive Guide, and follow us on LinkedIn for more Google Workspace tips!

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