Storage

How to protect your files on Google Team Drives

Working in Team Drives allows for easy collaboration and file sharing among organizations. It can also lead to users deleting files that other users might need. Here's how to ensure that won't happen.

Team drive icon (gray) on left with Google Drive logo in middle of icon; Restore icon (line in a circle with an arrow point at end, surrounding clock hands set at 12 and 4)
Image: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic

Organizations that use G Suite have two places to store files: My Drive and Team Drives. Users control the files on My Drive. They're files the user created, stored, or allowed to be stored on My Drive. A Team Drive, in contrast, gives more people access: Every member with full access can add files to a Team Drive, and every member with edit access can modify the content of a file on a Team Drive.

This distinction between who controls files on My Drive and a Team Drive has important implications for file management. For example, consider file deletion. A user can control when a file gets deleted from My Drive, since they are the owner of those files. But any member with full access can delete a file from a Team Drive. And when one member deletes a file from a Team Drive, all members of the Team Drive lose access to it.

As you work with Team Drives, try the following four tips to help prevent problems or recover data. To implement the first two tips, you'll need to be a Team Drive owner or a member of a Team Drive with full access. For the last two tips, you'll need a G Suite Administrator account with the authority needed to restore data and add apps, respectively.

1. Manage member access levels

The simplest way to ensure that files remain on a Team Drive is to change the access level to Edit access for most members. Edit access allows a person both to add files to a Team Drive and to edit existing files on the drive. More importantly, edit access removes the ability to move or delete files. Lower levels of access, such Comment access or View access restrict the potential for changes even further.

To modify access levels for an existing Team Drive on mobile, open the Team Drive, select the three dot menu (in the upper right corner), choose Manage members. Select the down-pointing arrow to the right of the account you wish to modify. Change the access level as desired.

Android screenshot of Team Drive access levels: Full access, Edit access, Comment access, View access

On Google Team Drives, adjust a member's access level to Edit access to prevent that member from deleting or moving files.

2. Restore files or folders

Members with either Full access or Edit access may restore files or folders that have been moved to the Trash (e.g., items that have been deleted from a Team Drive). For example, if Bob has Edit access and Alice has Full access permissions to a Team Drive and Alice deletes an item, then either Bob or Alice can locate the item in the Trash folder for the Drive and restore it. People with Comment access or View access should be able to see that an item has been moved to the Trash for the Team Drive, but they won't have the ability to restore it to the Team Drive.

But there are limits to this ability to restore. If an item has been in the Trash for 25 days or so, it may be auto-emptied from the Trash. After that, neither Alice nor Bob will be able to access it. Also, if Alice moves the item to Trash, then deliberately goes into the Trash and empties the Trash, then similarly, neither of them will be able to restore the items.

Android screenshot of Team Drive restore options (in Google Drive app)

Any Team Drive member with Full or Edit access levels may restore deleted items. (Google Drive app on Android shown with Team Drive file restore options.)

3. Restore deleted data or Team Drives

A G Suite administrator also may be able to restore items deleted from a Team Drive or a deleted Team Drive—again, provided the information has been deleted within the past 25 days. To do so, sign in to the Google Admin console (https://admin.google.com), choose Apps > G Suite > Drive and Docs > Manage Team Drives > then select the Restore icon (to the right of the Team Drive). Choose the a date range for your restore, then choose Restore data.

Screenshot of G Suite admin Team Drive restore options (with restore icon to right of a Team Drive)

A G Suite administrator may restore items recently deleted from a Team Drive—or an entire deleted Team Drive. Select the restore icon to the right of the Team Drive, then choose from recent dates to restore.

4. Protect data with third-party backup

Finally, a third-party backup solution will let you retain access to deleted files over a longer period of time. Typically, G Suite backup services retain backups of all of your G Suite data, including Gmail, Calendars, Contacts, Sites, Google Drive contents, and more.

Make sure your third-party backup service saves Team Drive data, since some G Suite backup providers have not yet added support for Team Drive data backup. Two providers that support Team Drive backups as of mid-March 2018 are Spinbackup and Spanning Backup. Spinbackup offers a custom storage option for $36 per user or Team Drive per year, with a minimum of five licenses and with each license granting 30GB of storage. Spanning Backup offers unlimited storage and unlimited version backup, including Team Drives, for $48 per user per year with discounts available for non-profit organizations and with no minimum number of users required.

Screenshots (Android) from Spanning Backup (left, showing price $48 per user per year) and Spinbackup (right, showing price of $3 per user or Team Drive per month)

Some third-party services, such as Spanning Backup (left) and Spinbackup (right), will preserve Team Drive data, too.

Your thoughts?

The combination of adjusted member access levels, a multi-week deleted file restoration period, along with third-party backup options offer you several ways to ensure that you never lose Team Drive data—even after the data has been actively deleted.

If you use Team Drives, what access level do you assign most members? If you choose to backup your G Suite data, what third-party backup provider do you use? Does your provider backup Team Drive data? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@awolber).

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About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Albuquerque, NM with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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