Dropbox is one of my favorite tools. In fact, I've made no secret that I think it's one of the best productivity tools both on your desktop and mobile devices. I use it every day, and it makes my life so much easier.
So you can imagine how excited I was that they just announced a major redesign along with an all-new desktop app. Then I tried it out and realized that this was going to be one of those times when you get so excited about something only to find out that it's too good to be true. In this case, the devil is in the details--or one detail in particular.
That's because Dropbox's best new feature has a fatal flaw.
First, the update.
The short version is this; Dropbox wants to be the center of your team collaboration efforts by bringing the cloud-based productivity tools you already use, into Dropbox.
For example, it now makes its integration with Google Docs available to everyone, allowing you to create and edit documents, spreadsheets and slide presentations directly from your Dropbox.
This is a big deal for anyone who has to be able to collaborate on files with teammates using Google Docs but doesn't want to keep their information locked into Drive.
It also integrates with Slack, allowing you to start messages, share files, and even keep track of sharing activity from within the Dropbox desktop app.
You can even start Zoom meetings directly from Dropbox and easily share files from Dropbox in your video meetings.
The desktop app is beautiful. That might seem like a rather trivial observation. Fine, but if you're really going to spend as much time using it as Dropbox wants you to, it better be intuitive and, well, not give you a headache to look at. Setting it up was even quintessential Dropbox. I opted in and it literally just showed up and asked me if I was ready to get started--which required only a click.
Here's the problem. It's a big one.
I've been trying out the new features today, and I love all of them. Well, except one. In order to use the Google Docs integration, you have to disable browser protections against cross-site tracking. These are the cookies that websites use to send information about you from one site to another and track what you do when you leave.
For example, if you are on Amazon, and then you visit Facebook, cross-site tracking is the reason you see ads for whatever you were shopping for. By default, browsers like Safari, Brave, and Firefox disable this type of tracking to better protect your privacy.
But you can't use Google Docs with Dropbox without enabling cross-site tracking. To be fair, this is more a problem with Google than Dropbox, and I get it. Dropbox needs to be able to send information back and forth with Google Docs. That's reasonable, except there's no way to enable it only for this integration.
That means you have to enable cross-site tracking globally. For all sites. All of them. Even the ones you'd rather not give the ability to follow you around the internet.
Dropbox, please find another way.
Friends, that's a problem. I'm not a software engineer so I have no idea what it takes to build this sort of thing. But I do know that modern browsers (except Chrome) have come a long way in terms of making it easier to control what happens with your personal information.
They also now help block the tracking that feeds information about what you do online into vast databases designed to show you targeted ads hoping to monetize your privacy.
This one feature requires you to basically defeat all of that.
A Dropbox spokesperson provided the following when I asked about this issue: "Unfortunately, many browsers don't offer an option to enable cross-site tracking for just a specific integration. When that is the case, users can not give permission to specific cross-site integrations. It's all or nothing and we agree there should be more granular permissions for users. Of note, Firefox and Chrome do allow white-listing of specific sites when enabling cross-site tracking. An alternative would be to use our new shortcuts feature to create links to your Google Docs, Sheets and Slides within Google Drive. Shortcuts don't involve cross-site tracking."
You'll have to decide whether it's worth it to you and your business to take advantage of one of the most anticipated new productivity updates at the cost of your personal information.
Which, unfortunately, is becoming all too common a way of life. As much as I love this update, I'm just not sure it's really worth that cost.
Note: This column has been updated with a response from Dropbox.