Google Drive Owns All Your Uploaded Data: Should You Worry?

By Jonathan Charles | Apr 26, 2012 11:10 AM EDT

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Google barely managed to launch its cloud storage service - Google Drive - without coming under heavy criticism for its terms of service. The service was revealed to "own" users' files, even going as far to say the company could "create derivative" works. However, is the service that different from its competitors?

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Google changed its term of service from program-specific to program-wide, resulting in the need for language that covered all programs simultaneously.

"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 ... a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works ... communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content," Google said in its terms of service.

As The Verge pointed out, Google has to allow users to give up a lot of rights. It would be illegal to play YouTube videos in public, and it couldn't run services such as Google Translate or Google Image Search.

Google also can't access user files and use them across its services. The company says it will ask for permission beforehand.

"We will ask for your consent before using information for a purpose other than those that are set out in this Privacy Policy," the company said. It would be damaging for Google to access users files without permission anyway.

Comparing Google Drive to Dropbox, the latter has the advantage of only covering its service.

"We may need your permission to do things you ask us to do with your stuff, for example, hosting your files, or sharing them at your direction ... You give us the permissions we need to do those things solely to provide the Services," Dropbox said in it terms of service.

Importantly, Dropbox doesn't specify what permissions it needs. Google says what it could do with uploaded content, while Dropbox remains open.

In Microsoft's global terms of service, the company is very clear about the terms users agree to and when using SkyDrive and sends a similar message to Google.

"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 to your service.

"You understand 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," the company said.

Apple is no different; the company may not allow users to upload files through folders like Dropbox, but photos are uploaded through Photo Stream and documents can be stored. The company therefore gives itself permission so the data can be used.

"Except for material that we license you, Apple does not claim ownership of the materials and/or Content you submit or make available on the Service ... you grant Apple a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, publicly perform and publicly display such Content ... solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available," it said.

The result is that all the companies run similar messages, and for any company that uses lots of services then permissions need to be granted. Google's terms are no different to Microsoft's and Apple's, so it's a question of how much data users are comfortable sharing.

(reported by Jonathan Charles, edited by Dave Clark)


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