File Ownership and Preserving Data

Last updated: March 31, 2023
Please note: UW Google is undergoing several major changes. For more details and regular updates, see UW Google Changes Project.

On This Page

UW Google Drive, a part of UW Google, is a powerful tool for storing and sharing files, and collaborating on work. However, the frequent sharing of UW Google Drive files can also create confusion over file ownership. This page offers some tips for avoiding file loss in this modern file sharing environment.

UW Medicine workforce members or clinical students: please be aware that UW Google, including UW Google Drive, is not HIPAA compatible and should not be used for PHI. For more information on this policy, please contact

Records Management: What Files Should You Keep?

When saving and storing files, it is important to keep in mind that the UW must maintain compliance with state and federal laws and regulations relating to the preservation and destruction of information created and received by the UW.

It is the general policy of the UW to:

  • Create only the records it needs
  • Retain records according to legally approved records retention schedules
  • Maintain active and inactive records in appropriate storage equipment and locations
  • Discard records when no longer required
  • Preserve records of historical significance
  • Identify and protect vital records

This policy applies as well to files that have been shared with you. Among the files that others share with you may be records that are subject to records retention requirements and should be preserved or deleted according to a legally approved records retention schedule. These records may also be responsive to an audit, public records request or litigation and as such must be maintained until the matter is resolved.

If you have specific questions about Records Management at UW, please contact Records Management Services.

If you have specific questions about Records Management at UW Medicine, please contact UW Medicine Records Management Services (RMS).

File Ownership: Yours or Shared with You?

Not all files you see in your UW Google Drive are owned by you. Many will be shared with you, and appear to be your files, but are actually owned by another individual at the UW. That’s fine for collaboration, but when an owner of a file is no longer a student or employee of the UW, their files will be deleted when they depart the UW.

If you depend on those files, it’s important to preserve them before your collaborator departs the UW. To do so, follow the process below.

Please note: This process should be followed for each individual who has already departed the UW and as a regular offboarding task when an individual is preparing to depart the UW.

Finding Shared Files

Watch a video overview and/or follow the steps further down the page.

To find files you do not own in your UW Google Drive, click on Shared with me in the left column of UW Google Drive. Every file you see in this list is a file that is owned by someone else. As a result, every file listed can disappear without warning when the owner departs the UW.

Finding Files Owned by a Specific Person

Using Google Drive’s search box at the top of the screen, you can find files owned by a specific person.  This can be useful if you know an individual is leaving the UW soon but owns files you depend on.  To find all files owned by a specific person:

  1. Log in to your UW Google Drive.
  2. On the right side of the Google Drive search box, click the down arrow.
  3. In the search options screen that pops up, click the down arrow next to Owner and choose Specific person.
  4. In the box that appears next to Specific person, enter the email address of the owner you’d like to search for, e.g.

This will show you every file that is shared with you but owned by the individual you specified.

Finding Unorganized Files

Files in a folder that has been deleted are considered “unorganized”. With Google, a shared folder that someone else owns can be deleted but the files you had created in that folder are not lost: The files are automatically moved to your Google Drive.

In other situations, you might be looking for a file you don’t own but work on in collaboration with others. If the folder the file was stored in was deleted, that file may still persist in an “unorganized” state in someone else’s Google Drive.

Find unorganized files owned by me:

  1. On a computer, log into to Google Drive.
  2. In the search bar, enter: is:unorganized owner:me
  3. A list of files owned by you and are unorganized will display.
  4. Copy/Move the files to a location of your choice.

Find unorganized files owned by someone else and that you have access to:

  1. On a computer, log into to Google Drive.
  2. In the search bar, enter: is:unorganized
  3. A list of files that you have access to and are unorganized will display.
  4. Copy/Move the files to a location of your choice.

Please see Google Support’s Find or recover a file page for information (expand the accordions for advanced details).

How to Keep Shared Files

UW Google Drive offers several different methods for preserving files shared with you.

Copy or download a file

  • Right-click on a file shared with you and choose Make a copy to create a copy that you own that will be stored in your personal UW Google Drive.
  • Right-click on a file shared with you and choose Download to download a copy of the file to your device.
  • Select multiple files at a time by selecting a file, holding down Shift, then using your mouse to select a number of consecutive files.
  • Select a file then hold down Ctrl and select specific files out of a list files.
  • Select a file and hit Ctrl + A to select all the files on the list.

Please note: The sharing settings and version history of copied files do not transfer.

Download a folder

  • You cannot right-click on a folder shared with you and choose Make a copy; instead, you’ll have to open the folder and select the files to copy or download.
  • You can, however, right-click on a folder shared with you and choose Download to download a copy of the folder to your device.
  • The ZIP file created when you download a folder will maintain the folder structure of the downloaded Google Drive folder, i.e. all subfolders and files with reflect the folder structure on Google Drive.
  • Google files (e.g. Google Docs, Google Sheets, etc.) will be downloaded in Microsoft Office file formats, e.g. Google Doc file -> Microsoft Word file, Google Sheet file -> Microsoft Excel file.

Folder Ownership: Owner changes do not flow down to the files within

Google has a unique folder and file ownership structure. While files will automatically adopt the access and editing (sharing) permissions within a folder, each of those files are owned by the person who created them, not the folder owner.

For example: If Brigid owns a folder shared out to Laney, and Laney creates a file in that folder, Laney is the owner of that file.

Problem: If Laney leaves the organization, Brigid no longer sees Laney’s file.

It is important to keep this in mind when you transfer ownership of a folder. The new owner will have full control over the folder itself but not its contents. Every file within the folder needs to have ownership transferred as well.

Transfer ownership of your files

Click here to learn how to make someone else the owner of your Google Drive files

Google Shared Drives vs Google Shared Folders

Google Shared Drives and Google Shared folders have distinct differences in both the file and folder structure, and ownership. For more information on this topic, please see the Google Shared Drives vs Google Shared Folders page.