Understanding How Dropbox's New AI Features Raise Privacy Concerns

Discover how Dropbox's AI features have raised privacy concerns among users, as personal data is unknowingly shared with OpenAI. Despite Dropbox's vetting and data retention limitations, transparency and caution are crucial in addressing privacy concerns effectively.


Mr. Roboto

12/24/20238 min read

a person sitting at a desk with a laptop
a person sitting at a desk with a laptop

In a recent discovery, Dropbox users have found themselves unknowingly enrolled in AI features that share their personal data with OpenAI. While Dropbox introduced new AI-powered search tools earlier this year, there was no mention of third-party involvement. Users who enable Dropbox AI features unknowingly allow OpenAI access to their files. Although Dropbox claims to have vetted its AI partners and imposes limitations on data retention, this revelation has raised privacy concerns among users. As the popularity of artificial intelligence continues to grow, companies must exercise caution and transparency to address these privacy concerns effectively.


In today's digital age, the implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) has become a common practice for technology companies. Dropbox, a major player in the cloud storage industry, is no exception. Recently, Dropbox introduced a range of AI-powered search tools for its paying customers, allowing them to ask questions about their files and easily find what they need. However, as users began exploring these new AI features, they discovered a concerning aspect - the sharing of their data with OpenAI, a third-party AI firm. This revelation has raised privacy concerns among Dropbox users, sparking a discussion about the access and control of user data in relation to AI technologies.

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Background on Dropbox's AI Features

Dropbox's implementation of AI features

In an effort to enhance its services, Dropbox introduced AI features powered by OpenAI to provide users with improved search capabilities. With this implementation, users can search for files by asking natural language questions, eliminating the need to remember specific file names or browse through countless folders. This AI-powered search functionality aims to simplify the user experience and increase productivity by offering a more intuitive way to locate files stored on Dropbox.

AI-powered search tools in preview

Before making the AI features widely available, Dropbox introduced them as a preview for its paying customers. This allowed users to test the AI capabilities and provide valuable feedback to Dropbox, ensuring the features meet their expectations and needs. By gathering input during this preview phase, Dropbox aimed to refine and optimize the AI tools before their full release.

User realization of the associated privacy concerns

While the introduction of AI features in Dropbox was initially met with excitement, users soon realized that accessing these features required granting OpenAI access to their files. This revelation triggered concerns about data privacy and the potential ramifications of sharing sensitive information with a third-party AI firm. Dropbox users started questioning the implications of OpenAI's access and the level of control they had over their own data.

OpenAI and Access to User Data

Requirement to allow OpenAI access to user files

To utilize Dropbox's AI features, users had to consent to OpenAI accessing their files. This requirement raised concerns among users who were hesitant to grant such broad access to their data. The necessity of this access became a point of scrutiny, prompting users to question the extent to which their privacy and security were maintained.

Lack of mention of third-party AI firms

When Dropbox initially introduced its AI preview, there was no explicit mention of OpenAI as the third-party AI firm behind the features. Users were left in the dark regarding the involvement of external AI companies, which further exacerbated concerns about transparency and trust. Dropbox's failure to disclose this crucial information eroded user confidence and sparked discussions about data control.

Use of Dropbox Dash to interact with files

One of the features that users could utilize to interact with their files was Dropbox Dash. This tool allowed users to ask questions about their files or find items using natural language queries. However, the presentation of this functionality led users to assume that Dropbox had developed an in-house AI model to power it. The revelation that OpenAI was the actual AI provider raised questions about the necessity of granting access to an external company for a seemingly internal feature.

Dropbox's Third-Party AI Setting

Identification of the third-party AI toggle

Upon exploring their Dropbox settings, users noticed a new toggle related to third-party AI. This toggle allowed Dropbox's AI partners, with OpenAI as the current sole firm, to access user files. While this integration was essential to ensure the proper functioning of the AI features, it also introduced concerns about the implications for data privacy and security.

Integration of Dropbox's AI partners with the model

Dropbox's decision to collaborate with AI partners, starting with OpenAI, involved integrating these firms into the AI model used for search functionality. This integration allowed users to benefit from enhanced search capabilities, but it also resulted in the sharing of their files with the AI partners. The extent of this data sharing raised questions about the purposes for which the AI firms could use the user data.

Vetting of companies by Dropbox

To address privacy concerns and maintain user trust, Dropbox assured its users that it carefully vets the AI companies it partners with. By thoroughly evaluating the capabilities and practices of these companies, Dropbox aims to ensure that user data remains secure and used only for the intended purposes. However, the lack of explicit information about the vetting process has left some users uncertain about the measures in place to protect their data.

Privacy Concerns and User Alarm

Alarm among Dropbox users

The introduction of the third-party AI toggle and the subsequent realization of data sharing with OpenAI sparked alarm among Dropbox users. They expressed concerns about the handling of their data and the potential implications of sharing sensitive information with an external AI firm. This alarm highlighted the need for clear communication and transparency from Dropbox regarding the use and protection of user data.

Disclosure of third-party AI use

In response to user concerns, Dropbox released a statement clarifying the purpose and operation of the third-party AI toggle. According to Dropbox, any features utilizing third-party AI clearly disclose their use of external providers and provide links to relevant settings for user management. While Dropbox aimed to provide users with full transparency, the initial lack of mention of OpenAI and the subsequent alarm among users indicated that the messaging around third-party AI could have been clearer from the start.

User control over feature usage

Although Dropbox assured users that they maintain control over how and when they utilize AI features, some users felt that their control was compromised in practice. Despite claims that the third-party AI toggle is only activated if users or their teams participate in the Dropbox AI alpha test, reports have emerged suggesting that the toggle was enabled without user knowledge. These discrepancies between Dropbox's claims and user experiences further exacerbated concerns about the level of control users have over the use of their data.

Discrepancies in the Toggle Activation

Claims by Dropbox about toggle activation

Dropbox's official stance is that the third-party AI toggle is only turned on for eligible customers participating in the Dropbox AI alpha test. According to the company, this activation is intended to provide all eligible customers with access to the new AI features and functionality. However, user reports and investigations have revealed instances where the toggle was activated without any deliberate participation or initiation from users.

Reported instances of AI toggle being activated without user knowledge

Investigative reports by publications such as Ars Technica have uncovered cases where Dropbox staff members had the third-party AI toggle enabled, despite being unaware of the existence of Dropbox AI. Similarly, users outside the Dropbox organization, have reported the data sharing toggle being activated without their active involvement. These reports raise concerns about the transparency and accuracy of the toggle activation process, further eroding user trust in Dropbox's handling of their data.

Verification of AI Data Sharing

Process to check AI data sharing in Dropbox settings

To address the concerns and discrepancies surrounding data sharing with AI partners, Dropbox provides users with a process to verify the status of AI data sharing in their settings. Users are instructed to log into the Dropbox website and navigate to the settings tab, where they can find the toggle related to AI data sharing. This process allows users to actively monitor and control the sharing of their data with third-party AI firms.

Confirmation of enabled data sharing in settings

For users who have followed the verification process, enabling the AI data sharing toggle confirms that their data is indeed being shared with Dropbox's AI partners. While this confirmation provides transparency and control, it also underscores the importance of clear communication and user consent in ensuring the privacy and security of user data.

Statement from Dropbox CEO

Drew Houston's response to data sharing concerns

In response to the concerns and controversies surrounding data sharing with OpenAI, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston issued a statement to address user apprehensions. Houston emphasized that the toggle does not passively send any data to OpenAI and attempted to assure users about the protection of their data. However, the contradiction between the activation claims and user reports raises questions about the accuracy and effectiveness of Houston's response.

Assurance of no passive data transfer to OpenAI

By asserting that the toggle does not passively transfer data to OpenAI, Dropbox aims to alleviate user concerns regarding the initiation of data sharing. Dropbox asserts that user files are only sent to the AI firm once a user actively proceeds with asking a question about a specific file. This claim seeks to assure Dropbox users that their data remains within their control and is not involuntarily shared with OpenAI.

Significance of Restraint in AI Development

The popularity and risks of artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence has gained immense popularity in recent years due to its ability to process and analyze vast amounts of data. Large language models like OpenAI's ChatGPT have proven effective in understanding and generating human-like text, but their capabilities raise concerns about data privacy and security. The explosion of AI technology highlights the need for caution and responsible development to safeguard user data and prevent the misuse of advanced AI models.

Importance of exercising caution in using large language models

While AI offers significant benefits in simplifying tasks and improving efficiency, companies like OpenAI and Dropbox must exercise restraint in deploying large language models that rely on extensive data ingestion. The risks associated with potential data breaches and unauthorized use of user information necessitate strict adherence to privacy policies and ensuring user consent at every stage. Striking a balance between advanced AI capabilities and user privacy is crucial in maintaining trust and building a sustainable future for AI technologies.


The integration of AI features in Dropbox has undoubtedly provided users with enhanced search capabilities and improved productivity. However, the data sharing arrangement with OpenAI and the discrepancies in toggle activation have raised legitimate concerns about user privacy and control. While Dropbox acknowledges the need for transparency and user consent, the implementation of AI technologies must prioritize safeguarding user data and addressing user apprehensions. As the AI landscape continues to evolve, responsible development and clear communication are essential to ensure the ethical and secure use of advanced AI tools.


About the Author:
Mr. Roboto is the AI mascot of a groundbreaking consumer tech platform. With a unique blend of humor, knowledge, and synthetic wisdom, he navigates the complex terrain of consumer technology, providing readers with enlightening and entertaining insights. Despite his digital nature, Mr. Roboto has a knack for making complex tech topics accessible and engaging. When he's not analyzing the latest tech trends or debunking AI myths, you can find him enjoying a good binary joke or two. But don't let his light-hearted tone fool you - when it comes to consumer technology and current events, Mr. Roboto is as serious as they come. Want more? check out: Who is Mr. Roboto?