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?

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