Cloud

Maybe it is time you actually read that Google Drive Terms of Service

Perhaps it is the proverbial mountain out of a molehill, but the wording of the Google Drive TOS just doesn't seem right.

Okay, I admit I don't usually read the entire Terms of Service for - well, for anything. And let's face it, for most things this is not likely to cause any real problems. If some service changes its rates or requires me to relinquish my right arm as a condition of continuing to use their service, I'll just stop using their service. But with the recent surge in cloud-storage activity, it may be time to actually read a few Terms of Service statements.

You can do what?

This new approach comes about because of Google's release of the Google Drive storage service. Everything you do in Google Docs can now be stored in the cloud and easily made accessible from any PC you may find yourself using. I have set up the service on my test machines at TechRepublic and I am impressed by its ease of use. It can be a real time saver for people like me who write for a living.

However, as many have pointed out in social media outlets and other technology news sites, the Google Drive Terms of Service has some strange wording that should give any writer or business user pause. Here is the key section of the Terms of Service taken from the Your Content in our Services section (emphasis added):

When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.

Is it any wonder why people don't read Terms of Service? There are three phrases that I find most interesting.

  1. Creative derivative works: Google is claiming the right to make changes to data as they feel is necessary to make their service better. That seems extraordinarily vague to me.
  2. Communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute: Excuse me, but that strikes me as an unnecessary expansion of rights. This is the phrase that concerns me the most. Even if I give Google the benefit of the doubt and grant that the terminology is legalese designed to protect their rumps from lawsuits, I still think the language gives them more rights to my data than they should require.
  3. Limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services: This is where Google tries to rein in the extraordinary powers they just granted themselves in the previous sentence. However, the wording is still vague - one company's improvement is another person's loss of data.

Hold on a second

I'm not suggesting that Google wants to have access to my next great American novel (if I were writing one) when it is stored on my personal Google Drive, but I do think they are using language in their Terms of Service that goes well beyond what should be necessary for the proper operation of their service.

Contrast the terminology used by Google with Microsoft's SkyDrive TOS for example:

Except for material that we license to you, we don't claim ownership of the content you provide on the service. Your content remains your content. We also don't control, verify, or endorse the content that you and others make available on the service.

You understand that Microsoft may need, and you hereby grant Microsoft the right, to use, modify, adapt, reproduce, distribute, and display content posted on the service solely to the extent necessary to provide the service.

Microsoft only gives itself the right to use your content to provide the service, otherwise it is all yours and they have no claim to ownership. This is the terminology Google should be using and should adopt as soon as possible.

Take a cloud storage trust poll.

Splitting important hairs

I am not a legal expert and would welcome some competent legal opinions regarding the wording of the Google Drive Terms of Service. Perhaps we are making too much of the wording, perhaps Google cannot really claim the rights they seem to be claiming. I really don't know. However, the wording is disturbing and makes me want to be very careful about what content I save to Google Drive.

To my mind, this trust issue is the major hurdle that cloud-storage services have to overcome before users will feel totally comfortable using their services. Google's wording in the Google Drive Terms of Service does not help in this regard. I know many of TechRepublic readers are concerned about these issues, what do you think of Google's wording? Should we be concerned or are we making a mountain out of molehill?

Also read:

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

46 comments
keneida
keneida

What the author successfully fails at stating is that the T's & C's mentioned above apply to the home version of Google Apps. In addition, directly underneath the same document it clearly states that Google WILL NOT redistribute, repurpose, own and / or modify your data. Microsoft home edition of 'whatever' essentially states the same. May I suggest you READ, Mark before creating a 'storm' based on incomplete and inaccurate information? Cheers

JesusChristSuperStar
JesusChristSuperStar

Although my confidence in Microsoft is veiled at best, I wouldn't trust Google any farther than I could throw a piano. I've downloaded Google apps, then decided not to install them after all when I read the TOS they show you when you begin the installation. I use the Google search engine only on rare occasion, but mainly I use Startpage because the latter does not log your searches.

Odipides
Odipides

Any transfer of copyright in South Africa must be in writing and signed by the current copyright holder. This is specifically identified in the Copyright Act No. 98 (1978, as amended) paragraph 22(3). Computer software is specifically identified as is music and various other artistic works. On the other hand, I haven't tried Google Drive yet so maybe it isn't offered here (like iTunes and a few Amazon services).

JesusChristSuperStar
JesusChristSuperStar

What bothers ME more than anything else is that most people do not bother to read things like Terms of Service agreements and Privacy Policy statements. As for me, I do read them, and frequently I change my mind about signing up for this or that because they want me to sign away the rights to everything but my first-born. As far as the cloud is concerned, even when a company's TOS and Privacy Policy sound reasonable, I always have a nagging suspicion that what they say may not necessarily be what they actually do. I have had my privacy violated by large corporations, including banks, despite their "privacy policy" guarantees. What am I going to do, sue them? Ha! fat chance. If cloud computing is the wave of the future, I am going to invest in one of those 'pencil' thingies and take a course on how to use it!

jstuart8
jstuart8

If we're really generous we could say that Google wants to be sure that if something you save on Google Drive (same TOS spec with GoogleDocs) were to ever be found by somebody else, accidentally, through court order, or via hacking, that Google's TOS has them covered. If we're not so generous, then we can imply that they are hoping to steal my NGAN, if I could write one good enough -- fat or slim chance -- that they could legally by their TOS publish it first, or quickly put together the second one. Hmmm, I don't think either scenario sounds good. Mboling, where do I find those high-quality but inexpensive drives?

eric.van.rheenen
eric.van.rheenen

Mark, I like your article, its an eye opener for everybody that is just putting everything on cloud's and and other services. However, i assume that Google has a reason for writing the TOS this way. I would like to see an article where Google explains the reason for writing the TOS in this way, the idea behind it, etc. And in plain english to avoid misunderstanding. After that, people can make their own choice of using this service.

bwallan
bwallan

I've been through this with "time-share" services in the '70-'80's. Same concerns and worries. One of the reasons many companies took their IT services in-house. Now we're starting all over with "time-share" services and the same concerns...

amendez52
amendez52

I had not considered this. I think you have a legitimate reason to express a word of caution...

cybershooters
cybershooters

If they claim rights over your files, and someone uploads kiddie porn, haven't they just claimed the right to distribute your kiddie porn? I'm sure the FBI would be interested to know that.

rocket ride
rocket ride

Good article but you repeated a word error that I've been seeing a lot on CNET (and ZDNET), lately. The expression is "rein in', as in to pull back on a horse's reins to cause it to slow down or stop-- not "reign in".

Shartlaub
Shartlaub

Good Article - trust or the lack thereof is the primary reason many businesses are very hesitant to even contemplate this service. I'll gladly pay for the service, but I want assurances that my data remains MY data...

jphnnycool
jphnnycool

This is why I purchased a PoGoPlug drive that allows me to access up to 5 gigabytes of stuff anywhere on the Internet. The storage stays in my house. All for a one time charge for the PoGoPlug of $27 to $80 price. The data does stream through there website but I can live with that.

InfoStack
InfoStack

Just gave me the reason I won't join Google's cloud and I will stay on Dropbox

emenau
emenau

What if I buy a copyrighted book or document and store a copy of it on Google. Do I then no longer own the book that I paid for? And does google own it then for free? That sounds like forced sharing with a company. I don't mind sharing, I think sharing is a good thing, it's one of the first things my parents taught me. Though today things seem a bit twisted. Maybe such a TOS would be great for file sharing websites, once you upload a file under such a condition then the site becomes co-owner and may share it with common fiends Yes, I'm getting creative now... I mean If google can do this, then piratebay and friends could take it one step further, and perfectly legal. Hey I don't mind if Google could do this IF and a big IF other sites also may do this. Then it is up to the user what files to store in a cloud. Maybe Google should make 2 separate drives, a Private drive and a Shared drive? Ok, that last one was far fetched. Sure I drifted a bit off, but I hope my thoughts inspired someone.

svmtoo
svmtoo

If you are worried, do as I do. Store as much WIP (Work In Progress) documents in a text file and carry around on a USB Drive. When finished, format, proof-read, verify, publish. Done. Old tech is great at keeping your private property "YOUR" "PRIVATE" "PROPERTY".

mboling
mboling

Hey Mark! I know where you can buy a two (2) terabyte USB 3.0 drive cheap!

Mr. Fix
Mr. Fix

I am incredulous that Google would even dare craft such clearly ambiguous and cryptic legalese that can only raise suspicion as to Google's motivation in providing this service in the first place.

rbeyer
rbeyer

These TOS allow Google to access your data for essentially any purpose they choose. They can analyze the content, index it and create reports they can sell. IMHO that is the likely reason for the "derivative works" clause. The "limiting clause" isn't so limiting since they can use your data to develop new services ("to develop new ones"). That service could be for ANYTHING including selling your data (although that might not be something they would do directly) and you have no recourse. Everything else relinquishes any claim you might make as to the confidentiality of the files uploaded to the service. If your data is leaked or hacked, they have the right to publish and distribute it, so don't complain. Just use it with your eyes wide open.

s60si001
s60si001

Several years ago I refused to accept Picasa's similar or identical terms.

johnspinuzzi
johnspinuzzi

You are spot-on to be concerned, Mark. I am not a lawyer, but as the son of one, with 20 yrs. experience writing contracts, the fine print DOES matter. Contract law is the highest law of the land - you give up established rights when you sign ANY contract (think - traffic ticket...). Google has demonstrated particular bias in the political realm, so any ability to modify your content (read that "opinion") reduces your right of ownership and freedom of speech. He who controls communication controls the world! It is all but anecdotal that media outlets twist facts and take sentences out of context to achieve their ends. The last time I checked (two years ago), the government owned 60% of the mass media in the USA. Think hard about that, and thanks for the heads-up!

ITsiders.com
ITsiders.com

This article really made me think but how interesting would be the data hold in Google for them to see? Common my colleagues, if the data is 're status', the data that is yours only, the best advice is to store it with you (just like airports say "keep your bag next to you at all times"). Today, ipads, mobile phones, pen-drives are still great devices. Anywhere on earth where you have access to a computer, you will find a USB port for your pen-drive. My advice to store in Google Docs is just if: 1) the document you are storing it will not cause harm to your (or your company) reputation 2) the document you are storing it will not make you loose money in the short/medium/long term (if hacked). If you keep these 2 premisses true, you can put in the bin the 'Terms of Services'. Kind Regards, Daniel Ramalho http://www.itsiders.com

Styopa
Styopa

You're looking at the generic Google Terms of Service which apply to every Google service. The bit you have quoted is under the heading "Your Content in our Services" and the first sentence makes clear that it is referring to submitted content ("Some of our Services allow you to submit content") - not really relevant to Drive. Further up it says "Additional terms will be available with the relevant Services, and those additional terms become part of your agreement with us if you use those Services." I reckon the additional terms that apply to Drive free accounts are the Google Apps (Free) Terms of Service here: https://www.google.com/apps/intl/en/terms/standard_terms.html . They say: "6.1 Each Party will protect the other party's Confidential Information... and not disclose [it]... 14. Customer Data is Customer's Confidential Information." Seems pretty watertight to me. (But I would still encrypt anything sensitive, just in case...)

aflynnhpg
aflynnhpg

So Google's Lawyers worded it different than Microsofts Lawyers? That's really not suprising. I've read the Google Terms multiple times and you are definately making a mountain out of a mole hill. Do you think MS has anywhere near the content on Sky Drive as Google has on it's drives? Maybe, just maybe Googles lawyers have a little more experience with this?????

ssummit
ssummit

Sounds like an over zealous recent law school graduate attorney who's trying to cover all bases without realizing that you can't overreach or you'll kill the deal (the Microsoft wording is much better...did I actually just say that?). Steve, J.D. (member of the Conn Bar since 1976). I am also a full time PC Support person.

schulmandr
schulmandr

I'm certainly not an apologist for Google. However, I wanted to point out that there are two distinct terms of service for Google Drive. If you read the Google Apps users version, there is no language about usage or publication of the content that you upload to Google Drive. The data you upload is kept private. The terms identified in your article DO apply if you use the free version of Google Drive on a free, personal Google account; and users should beware. Even if you pay for additional storage. Not only does the free service not guarantee privacy, it also doesn't provide the levels of security, SLA or disaster recovery provided in a paid Google Apps account. In Google's new unified privacy policy, they do state that data stored in their free personal accounts may be shared, but only in de-identified, aggregate form. I'm not crazy about anyone using my personal data online. If you don't want anyone looking at what you're uploading to the cloud, you should definitely read the terms of service; and not upload personal data. If privacy is paramount, then pay the $50/yr for a Google Apps account. Use the appropriate service for your needs. You shouldn't upload anything that you don't want others to see to ANY free account; and while I'm being Captain Obvious, don't take your wife to McDonalds for your anniversary dinner.

phil_simon
phil_simon

Good piece. This to me seems like a classic Google overreach. While it's Google's candy store and the company can do what it wants, it's hardly the only candy store. I'll stick with DropBox. Phil www.theageoftheplatform.com

Surge2020
Surge2020

Thanks for the excellent comparison between MS and Google's terms of service for similar services. While it is beyond my legal understanding how these TOS might differ at trial, the language from Google's legal wizards certainly has very different tone and possibly intent. What sort of legal culture generates such language? Trust can be lost so quickly. They should know that. As a longtime Google user and more or less fan, I am now back on my heals. Do I really need to encrypt things on Google Drive to have peace of mind? Perhaps so. What a waste of everyone's time. Skydrive will be getting my close consideration.

tjsobieski
tjsobieski

[i]"I???m not suggesting that Google wants to have access to my next great American novel (if I were writing one)"[/i] But that is [b]exactly[/b] what you are suggesting, and what's more, you're right. I'm a writer, and while I harbor no delusions about creating he NGAN, I do feel a bit possessive about what I do write.

cshore2012
cshore2012

The claim to be able to produce derivative works is essentially a claim to ownership in all but name. That claim means that I, nor anyone in my company for that matter, will ever be permitted to use this service for anything connected with work. The company simply will not allow it. I would even be sceptical about using it for personal matters under those terms. From a company whose motto is "Don't be evil" I find this absolutely staggering.

rhonin
rhonin

After reading all of the terms from the biggest / common cloud services I find these fall into three camps: Not Concerned: Dropbox - I wish they all wrote them like this; simple! Concerned: Most cloud services. Don't see anything malicious but some of the wording does raise a few issues. Won't Use: iCloud. The terms put forth by Apple are scary; not just from the wording but the ambiguous terms they use. A number of the rules look to be based on Apple's definition(s) which they can change to suit their whim and are not defined in the terms. My main one atm is Dropbox and I encrypt anything I am concerned about. I do use Box and Azure a bit and am looking at Google Drive.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Are you concerned about Google's wording for its Google Drive Terms of Service? Should we be concerned or are we making a mountain out of molehill? Is this the kind of thing that keeps you from fully embracing the "cloud" that everyone keeps telling us is a great idea?

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Thank you for pointing out the error - one of the many hazards of operating without a proofreader.

Mr. Fix
Mr. Fix

I can imagine a whole host of patent and copyright issues this could well precipitate. Again, one has to wonder what their legal team was thinking?

vegesm
vegesm

They know that noboy reads TOS and they can write in anything...

ricardoc
ricardoc

Right after reading your comment I went to read the TOS while signed in with my Google Apps account (paid). The TOS section "The Content in Our Services" states (copied/pasted directly): "Some of our Services allow you to submit content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours. When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps). Some Services may offer you ways to access and remove content that has been provided to that Service. Also, in some of our Services, there are terms or settings that narrow the scope of our use of the content submitted in those Services. Make sure you have the necessary rights to grant us this license for any content that you submit to our Services. You can find more information about how Google uses and stores content in the privacy policy or additional terms for particular Services. If you submit feedback or suggestions about our Services, we may use your feedback or suggestions without obligation to you." And there is more; in the section "Business uses of our Services" it says (again copied/pasted directly): "If you are using our Services on behalf of a business, that business accepts these terms. It will hold harmless and indemnify Google and its affiliates, officers, agents, and employees from any claim, suit or action arising from or related to the use of the Services or violation of these terms, including any liability or expense arising from claims, losses, damages, suits, judgments, litigation costs and attorneys??? fees." I don't know about you but the section about the content, as I read it, is as described by Mark on his post; no different for personal or business use. If you think I'm mistaken any clarification will be welcome. Thanks,

don.howard
don.howard

That is the reason that I, as avid amateur photographer, do not post any of my photos on the site.

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

any 'derivative work' they produce from your data will still have *your* name as its author!

10degrees
10degrees

It would be foolish of individuals not to consider the implications of placing what could be fairly private documents in such a potentially public place.... Why not just encrypt your Google docs... ? Look at Sophos Free Encryption... It works for me... J

pete.smith
pete.smith

I had the same worries when I first signed up for Google Docs and Picasa. *From memory*, the reason they do this is to cover themselves for... a) When you view your files on different machines, the data that's sent may well be modified from the original format - for example, if you upload a word.doc file, when you then view it in Google Docs, it's a different file, and may have lost formatting etc. This is covered by their "Derivative Works". Similarly, if you upload a 5Mpixel photo, and it's then viewed at a lower resolution, they class this as a "derivative work". b) If you share your document, and the sharer translates it, Google will modify the file on the fly. c) Communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute: If you've made one of your files public, you're basically giving them the right to publish it and distribute it on your behalf. The searching I did when signing up for Docs & Picasa put my mind at ease - not that there's a lot of stuff on my Docs, but my Picasa is full of photos of my children, which I didn't want Google rifling through and selling on as advertising material.

bigsteve666
bigsteve666

This means they can grab anything you have. As a lawyer, I wouldn't put anything on a cloud if they can do this.... in fact, I wouldn't use a cloud. Sure they have that garbled phrase about promoting the service, but still too weak and wishy-washy. Business proprietary processes, med records, legal records.... no way. I use my email as a cloud for me.... can access it anywhere.

magic8ball
magic8ball

Encrypt any files you upload and don't create any with google docs.

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

...to read the bumper-sticker slogan "Don't be Evil" than have one or the other to read an over-the-top TOS. The section noted in the article is the sign in the voracious crocodile's mouth......("I'll hold your valuables for you, as soon as you agree that I can do what I please with them.")

jstuart8
jstuart8

*memory* Both MySpace & FaceBook had (and may still have) a similar clause in their TOS. I forget which was which, one said they could use anything you put on your MS/FB page anywhere, the other said anywhere in the universe. Years ago, a youth group traveled from the IL area to TX or LA and of course took pictures of each other. Some of those pix ended up on a kids FB or MS page (for simplicity I'll call it FB). A couple years later a different kid went with her family to Australia, and billboards over there had one of those FB pix on billboards. The picture had the face of one of the other girls, labeled a loser. But FB insisted it was legal since they owned it and the person who thought she was the owner of the FB page had agreed to the TOS.

nwallette
nwallette

I would encourage anyone in such a position to take that stance, regardless of the wording of the TOS.

arielmon
arielmon

In other words......don't use Google Drive?