By Doug Miller
Google launched its Google Drive service today and there have been several articles reviewing both the capabilities of this new service (especially how it compares to DropBox) and also lots of chatter about the terms of service. If you are curious about what Google Drive is, the official announcement is here and Walt Mossberg had a good write up here.
I am a big user of DropBox so I was very interested in trying out this new competitor. Overall, it seems like a solid product. I installed it on both a PC and an Android tablet and it worked as advertised. I was able to upload some files and view these in the browser, on my tablet and on my computer. I even tried accessing Google Drive files from my Windows phone using the web interface and this worked as well. I’m probably not going to replace DropBox just yet but this is a decent product.
However, while installing the product, I decided to check out the terms of service. The various terms can be found here, with different terms applying to different types of users:
I am a paying Google Apps for Business user, so my terms are the same as they are for other Google Apps products. No big surprises here. However, if you are a consumer using the free services, you should think carefully about what you store in Google Drive. Others picked up on this today as well with several stories that highlighted a key phase in the consumer terms of service:
“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).”
Initially people interpreted this to mean Google has rights to all your stuff. Then Google’s PR machine got into full swing and started contacting all these journalists to set the record straight. Google is pointing people back to another key phrase in the terms:
“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.”
The Google explanation seemed to calm the storm but I think to get the whole picture you need to read both parts. The way I read it – and I am not a lawyer – is that you still own your content that you have uploaded but by using the service you are granting Google a license to also use the content. You still own it but Google is now also able to use it. This seems pretty clear. Google has 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.”
Is Google likely to take your personal photos and “publicly perform” them? Probably not. I don’t think that is the intention here. No, this is Google doing what Google does best. It will be using the content to “improve” its services (such as advertising) by reading through the content, mine it for keywords and core information and use the information to help Google build a better profile for you. With a better profile, Google can display more relevant ads to you as you browse the web or use your mobile phone. With better ads, there are more clicks which result in a revenue event for Google. It will also use the content to help build better search algorithms.
So as it is with many “free” services in the new consumer cloud, these services are not really free at all. You are paying for the service by providing access to your personal information and data. In the New Information Economy, the new currency is your personal information.
And oh by the way, there is nothing new here with the Google Drive terms. These are the same terms that govern most Google consumer products such as Gmail. So if you are a non-professional user of Gmail, just keep in mind that Google does have a license to everything you submit to the service (i.e. email text you enter into a Gmail message), it can use the information almost anyway that it wants and it can use this information long after you stop using Google Gmail. Something to think about.