How to get rid of “phantom files” in your Chrome OS file explorer once and for all

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If you’ve owned a Chromebook for any reasonable length of time, and you have connected your Google Drive account to the file explorer in Chrome OS, then you have inevitably run into the annoying problem of “phantom files” that won’t go away, no matter how many times you delete them. Here’s how this problem usually starts:

Someone sends you a shared Google Doc. You open it, view it, close it, and want to forget about it – but since you viewed that shared document while signed into your Google account, you are now listed by Google as someone who can view the document. Because of this, whenever you open the native file explorer in Chrome OS and navigate to Google Drive, that file is right there – even though you don’t technically own it.

To make matters even worse, each time you delete it, it reappears the next time you open your file explorer. However, when you navigate to the Google Drive web interface within the Chrome web browser, it’s not there. In essence, the file is stuck in your Chromebook for eternity, unless you reset your Chromebook or clear the cache in your file explorer.

Neither of these solutions are ideal, though – while most things are synced to the cloud, resetting your Chromebook will cause you to lose all of your saved WiFi networks, individual settings for extensions, foreign keyboards, and more. You’ll also have to re-enabled all of the offline services that you plan on using, such as Gmail, Calendar, and Drive. Clearing the cache is a little less destructive, but depending on how many files you store in Google Drive, it can take a very long time for the file explorer to index all of them again.

Luckily, I’ve found a much better solution. It’s still not ideal, but it functions much better than the other solutions.

  1. First, create a “dummy” folder in Google Drive – you can name it “junk,” “delete,” or anything else you want.
  2. In your Chrome OS file explorer, find that phantom file that just won’t go away. Cut and paste it into your dummy folder.
  3. Next, access Google Drive through the Chrome browser. Navigate to your dummy folder, and the phantom file should appear – it won’t appear in the Google Drive web interface unless you paste it into a folder in Chrome OS.
  4. Move the file to your trash, and then empty your trash.

That’s it; your file will no longer appear in your file explorer in Chrome OS. Granted, this is a rather convoluted solution, and I’m puzzled as to why Google has allowed this bug to exist for so long. Luckily, it’s not too difficult to get rid of it yourself – as long as you know what you’re doing.

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John F

John was the editor-in-chief at Pocketables. His articles generally focus on all things Google, including Chrome and Android, although his love of new gadgets and technology doesn't stop there. His current arsenal includes the Nexus 6 by Motorola, the 2013 Nexus 7 by ASUS, the Nexus 9 by HTC, the LG G Watch, and the Chromebook Pixel, among others.

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