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Tips for Effective File-Sharing

With many cloud services, you have the option to share specific files or entire folders with other people or groups of other people. When you do this, the person or people you opt to share content with can share content in your account. Everything else that’s stored within your account theoretically remains private and inaccessible by those other users.

Maintain Control of the Files You Share

File-sharing management is the owner’s responsibility. A simple user error could easily lead to the wrong content being shared with the wrong people, or content being made available to your entire team or organization when it was only meant to be shared with a single individual. Before taking advantage of the file-sharing capabilities of any service, make sure you understand how the functionality works and that you know how to manage the sharing privileges and permissions associated with your files and folders. Based on the type of content being shared, consider putting additional (optional) security measures in place, such as password-protecting the shared files or folders. Some services also allow owners to set up a two-step verification process, which helps ensure that only the invited people can gain access to shared content.

As the owner, you always maintain the ability to invite additional people to share the content with or revoke someone’s access to the content later. It is your responsibility to ensure that your content is properly organized and that you invite only the appropriate people to access the content that they should become privy to. When necessary, you may need to revoke access to people who no longer need access to the content.

Manage Permissions for Shared Content

All file-sharing services allow the content owner to determine what exactly can be done with the content being shared. For example, permission options might include the following:

squ.jpg Read Only—The invitees can open and read the files on screen, but they can’t alter or store the files locally.

squ.jpg Read and Edit—The invitees can freely read and edit the shared files.

squ.jpg Read and Comment—The invitees can read these files, but they can only add comments, not edit or alter the files directly.

squ.jpg Download—The invitees can view (and potentially edit) the content and download it to their own computer(s) or mobile device(s). This setting gives the invitees, as well as the owner, control over the content. Whether or not the invitee can edit a shared document is based on the security settings the sender has applied to the file.

squ.jpg Share with Others—The invitees are able to share the content with others at their discretion.

squ.jpg Printing Options—The owner can determine if others are able to print the content locally or just view it on their screen.

squ.jpg Expiration Date for Shared Content Links—The owner can make the link active for a predefined time period, ranging from several minutes, to several hours, days, weeks, or months. After the link expires, the invitees no longer have access to it.

Understand How You Can Lose Control of Content

When you invite people to collaborate on a file or document, or you grant them permission to view and edit the document as well as download it to their computers or mobile devices, you lose significant control over that content. Even if an invitee’s ability to download and print content that they’re working with in the cloud is disabled and they’re only able to view it on their screen, that invitee could theoretically use his computer or mobile device’s screen capture functionality (or screen recording software) to later duplicate and reproduce that content.

A more common occurrence relating to when a content owner loses control over their file(s) is when permission is granted for others to download the content. After the content leaves the secure cloud-based workspace, the invitee can typically do with it as she pleases—editing it, printing it, and distributing it at her discretion.

If the owner later revokes someone’s access to the cloud-based version of the file, the invitee is prevented from obtaining file updates (as the owner or authorized collaborators edit the content), but any files the invitee has already downloaded are still at large and possibly being edited by the invitee.

Maintain a Version History for Important Documents and Files

Most cloud-based services automatically store older versions of a file or document as it’s being edited. This version history allows users to access older versions of files for reference (for example, to determine when a change was introduced) and allows the cloud-based service to maintain a detailed audit trail for each document or file.

You have to make sure this feature is turned on in the service you’re using; also make sure that older versions of a file or document are protected against deletion by individual users. Then you determine how long file or document histories are maintained and stored by the service.

If version history functionality is important to your team or organization for compliance purposes, or just for peace of mind (to protect against accidental deletion of important information, for example), look for services that maintain a complete file history forever rather than for only 30, 60, or 120 days. For this feature, you might need to subscribe to a premium version of the service.

When working with files and documents that have a version history (a copy of every version of that file or document is kept as changes or revisions are made), pay attention to the file’s date and time to ensure you’re always working with the most up-to-date version. Some services make only the latest file or document version readily available to all users and store the older versions of that file or document in a safe folder that’s not as easily accessible.

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