Concerns Erupt Over Google Cloud Service
April 26, 2012

Concerns Erupt Over Google Cloud Service

Lawrence LeBlond for

Google´s new online storage service released this week drew sharp criticism from tech firms and bloggers due to the fact its controversial privacy policy will allow the Internet search giant to have unchecked access to all your stored content.

Google´s updated integrated privacy policy, which took effect on March 1, covers all aspects of Google services, including the new Google Drive. The policy states that some of its services allow users to submit content. “You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content “¦ what belongs to you, stays yours,” the statement reads.

There is a catch, however.

Any uploaded content by users basically gives Google and its partners license to use, reproduce, modify, publish, and distribute said content, according to the site´s terms of service.

Some even believe the company could even claim ownership of content users upload to the cloud drive. Google´s cloud drive rivals, Microsoft SkyDrive and Apple´s iCloud, have similar privacy policy outlines, yet they are easier to understand, with not so much legal mumbo-jumbo.

Dropbox, another cloud service rivaling Google Drive, says in its privacy policy that “you retain full ownership to your stuff. We don´t claim ownership to any of it.”

A lesser known cloud service, SugarSync, does not appear to address the issue of “what´s yours is yours” anywhere at all in its policy.

While Apple, Dropbox, Microsoft, and even Google all claim they do not claim ownership of your stuff, they all still need permission from [you] to be able to deliver their services effectively. And their expansive privacy policies are in place to protect you, but also to protect them. But privacy policies can change, and not all the time will you be notified when that happens.

But Mountain View, California-based Google said Wednesday that it will not own any uploaded digital documents from its users, but it would electronically scan the files to allow users to access their documents from multiple devices.

“As our terms of service make clear, ℠what belongs to you stays yours.´ You own your files and control their sharing, plain and simple,” a spokesman for Google told the Boston Globe (Michael B. Farrell). “Our terms of service enable us to give you the services you want - so if you decide to share a document with someone, or open it on a different device, you can.”

But not all agree.

Some tech bloggers said Google´s newly updated policy conveys a much different message. They pointed to one section of the terms of service policy that looks to give the company rights to anything stored on Drive.

That section reads: “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 that we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.”

But Corynne McSherry, intellectual property director at online privacy firm Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the Globe's Michael B. Farrell that the legal language is rather benign. She said such policies allow Google and other online storage providers to share stored data with others. Yet, they can only do so if the user grants permission.

“I don´t think this policy is all that unusual online," said McSherry. She feels that, in the end, criticism and confusion over Google´s permission policy could benefit cloud service users: they may tend to actually read the terms of service that beforehand they never paid attention to.

It should be noted that Google and its rivals are accountable for making a profit, and abusing use of customer data would do more harm than good for such companies, making it much less likely that your data would be compromised.

However, there is always a risk when you store material in the cloud. But it seems, based on the popularity of such services, that many are willing to accept that risk for instant access to all their stuff.