How we lost over 6,000 Euro by not understanding Google Drive

As the owner of a small Digital Marketing Agency, I am constantly on the lookout for new products and services that will make our clients and our lives easier.

Google Apps – What Is It?

One of the best sets of tools we’ve found has been the Google Apps Suite. If you don’t know, a basic Google Apps subscription includes:

  • Gmail
  • Hangouts
  • Calendar
  • Google +  
  • Drive
  • Docs
  • Sheets
  • Forms
  • Presentations

This is a massive online productivity suite that’s integral for any business big and small and with pricing starting at 4 EUR/per person/per month, it’s really a no-brainer.

However, this post is about one specific part of Google’s service – Google Drive. I love Google Drive. I started using it when it first came out as a competitor to Dropbox. Honestly, the offering at that point was not nearly as solid as Dropbox, but the pricing was right and it fit perfectly into the ecosystem of Google tools we were already using. I use Google Drive to back up and maintain access to every single project we’ve worked on. As of this point, we have over 80 projects stored on it,including big design files for fliers, websites — all sorts of things! Last I checked, we had almost 400GB of data backed up in our Drive.

So you get the point, we rely heavily on Google Drive for maintaining the storage of our extremely important project details.

Backing up your data – 
being overly cautious is (sometimes) worth its weight in gold

I am generally really careful with backing up data. I’ve had far too many situations where I  thought my data properly backed up, but it was missing exactly what I needed or it was missing some crucial bit of transaction data that a client really needed. Thus, over the years, i’ve developed a fairly robust backup system that I thought was pretty fail safe, but we’ll get to that point later. First, let’s go over the system.

With Google Drive you can download their Google Drive application which is meant to allow you to download all of your online data directly to your computer. This allows you to quickly share certain files and folders with people, and begin working directly on the file on your computer and have it  backed up online for you without having to worry about it.

The offline Google Drive backup is my step one defense. So if something should happen to Google’s servers, I should at least have a copy of all of my data on my work computer which will prevent some serious data loss.

The second step of my backup process is an Apple Time Capsule. As an Apple user, this works wonderfully well. Every night my computer is backed up to my 2TB Time Capsule which then provides a second step of protection. In the event that Google Drive crashes and my computer crashes, I will still have the Time Capsule back up and thus will be able to recover my data.

Since I am bit of a control freak with data backup, I have yet another safety guard in place. I run a small Macbook Air connected to my TV to be able to use the TV to watch things like Netflix and movies. I also send all of our Drive contents to this computer to store it in yet another place. I use Bittorrent Sync to automatically handle this – It works effortlessly. I just set up the shared folder and every time there is an updated file that’s downloaded from Drive to my computer, it gets sent to two locations which should, in theory, protect us from any real data loss.

If you’re reading this and hoping to get some backup tips, just worry about the first two – Download your Drive to your computer, and then send that data somewhere else to be backed up. It’s most likely unnecessary to have these backups, as the likelihood of even Google having an issue where all of your data is lost is quite low, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

The Groundwork for the Perfect Storm

Recently, my company (Atomic Duo) has decided to launch a grand experiment. We’re calling this experiment Growth Labs and in short, we wanted to build a brand & website from the ground up, and take you along with us as we go through all of the steps. We’re aiming to be quite transparent and show you the wins and losses and how it all works. We got tired of a whole slew of marketing companies constantly spouting fluffy things that had no real applicable advice for anyone. So we’re doing the opposite.

So, in conjunction with this huge experiment, we’re moving all of our assets to our new website Growth Labs. This means our entire Google Apps needed to be moved from Atomic Duo to Growth Labs.

In theory this is really simple, but as you’ll see I made some very fundamental mistakes that ended up costing my company over 6000 EUR.

First, I set up the new Google Apps account –, created all of the emails we needed, and set up the entire suite of tools. This was all very easy and straightforward. It’s only when it came to migrating the Drive data did I realized there was a crucial flaw in my plan.

The last piece of information you need before we get into the nitty gritty is that we debated for a long time on the specific domain that we were going to use for our experiment. For a period of 2-3 months we were using the domain I had tried several times to buy the domain but was unsuccesful because the domain had been squatted and the owner of the domain wanted 20,000 USD for it. This was way too much for such a domain so we passed on that.  However, I had 2 employees that I had made emails for on They were connected to our old Atomic Duo Drive and were creating content from their new emails.

The Perfect Storm: Part 2 (What happened)

We finally decided on to be our new domain name and thus I decide to begin the process of moving all of our assets to a new Google Apps for Work account.

This part is quite easy – You just sign up for Google Apps for work and go through Google’s setup process.

Once we had Google Apps set up, I researched a bit on how to migrate all of our drive data to the new Google Drive. I found out that the best way to do this is by just using the Drive desktop app and syncing all of your data to your computer, and then changing the user that your Drive Desktop App is connected to, to the new user and it will then upload all of your files to your new account. Perfect, that sounded easy enough.

While this was syncing, I backed up the data on each of the emails on and deleted that domain entirely.  I needed to do this so that I could make an alias for the old emails. I didn’t want our clients getting confused with our new email accounts and sending messages to our old accounts and none getting through.

After a couple of days, all of our Google Drive data was moved to the new Google Drive. And this is when the shit hit the fan.

The Problem Starts

I started hearing from my employees that they couldn’t access their files from the new account. They would click on the file in Drive, and it would take them to a link that didn’t exist.

I checked out the files in question online, and sure enough, couldn’t get into them. Hmm.. Odd. Then I checked them directly on my desktop, surely they were still there since I had the physical file.  Nope, it did the same thing – took me to an online page that was a link that didn’t exist.  Uh… shit..

I thought these were actual files on my computer, but instead they all were  symlinks. This was tricky because they actually took up space. None of these were 1kb which is what you’d expect a symlink to be, but instead had real MBs of data… that you just can’t access.

Okay, so what’s going on here? Why can’t I access these files or get into them anymore?

Files & Ownership

Maybe you know this, maybe you don’t, but Google approaches file ownership quite a bit differently than anything I’ve dealt with before.

With Google – the owner of the file is always the person who created it. This means that even if it’s a company Google Drive account and an employee adds and creates files in it, it’s always the employee’s file. He or she is just temporarily sharing it with the company and can revoke this at any time. There are some settings you can change to make this a bit easier to handle, but let me restate that.

The creator of the file is the owner of the file and they are just sharing it with the organization. The organization does not own it. Even if they are working on a work email, logged into the work Google Drive, they always will own that file. The only way you can change this is by changing the ownership of the file.

Let’s return to our situation.

I had created a new Company Google Apps account and deleted the old Company Google Apps account. Which basically means the owners no longer existed. Which meant they quit sharing the files they were sharing with the company.

Which meant we no longer could access those files at all.

I scrambled to contact Google support and attempt to reopen the closed account, but luck was still not with me. Google immediately deletes all data with an account the instant it’s deleted. With an email user, it keeps the data for 30 days. An entire Google Apps account? Instant data deletion.

Those files were absolutely gone.

After 3 calls to Google support, they told me they were very sorry, but this was irreversible.

That’s blog posts, content marketing plans, report templates, persona templates all sorts of crucial information that you build when running an inbound marketing agency… just gone.

Work that we had spent 2 months building for our clients…gone.

All of the backup data that I had in all of those locations – totally useless because the owner did not exist. 

Ouch.  Not only did this put us behind with our clients, we had to work overtime to catch up and forego some of our own personal projects. This cost us a ton of money.

So, let’s recap what we’ve learned:

The Google Drive application does not actually download actual versions of your data to your desktop. If the owner of the file gets deleted, your file is inaccessible. Even if it looks like the file has a hefty size and the is there on your actual computer, it’s tied to the owner of the file.If the owner isn’t there, It’s not there!

Thus, even moving the data from one Google Drive account to another Google Drive account by way of the Google Drive desktop app ONLY works if the owner’s account never gets deleted and still maintains the sharing with your original user. In fact, it’s a pretty messy way to move the Google files.

How to Use Google Drive’s Permissions Properly When Someone Leaves your Organization

Now – I’ve probably freaked you out about all of this – but perfectly reasonable tools exist to help you out when you need to delete an email account within your organization.

Google allows you to transfer the ownership of a file owned by a user.  Follow this guide to understand how to do that.

After you’ve transferred ownership of all of the files that user created, you will then have to reorganize those files in your Google Drive. It does not maintain any folder organization your employee may have made. This is annoying but it’s better than losing the files.

Once you’ve transferred ownerships, You’re safe to delete that user now. When you delete them, it will give you the option to back up that user’s files. Do it, just to be safe.

How to Properly Migrate from One Google Apps Account to Another

First, transfer ownerships of all of your employees, freelancers, anyone who has made any file for you in the past that is on your Drive, to yourself.

Second, use Google Takeout instead of the Google Desktop app to download all of your files. . I am not going to sugar coat this, the process will be super annoying. Google Takeout will create a whole bunch of zip files containing all of your data. You will have to download each and every zip file, which for us was about 210 separate files.  You will then have to merge them all together, which on a Mac is only possible through terminal instructions.

When you finish that however, you will have all of your Google Drive data that is owned by you.

You now can reupload this to your new Google Drive account either through the desktop app or directly in the browser.

Then, celebrate and have a glass of wine for finishing this extremely arduous process while not costing your company a bunch of money. Like me.