Google+ for Business: Read the Terms

By Doug Miller

On August 29, Google announced a preview of its Google+ social networking offering as a premium product for business. Google+ for Business will be made available to contracted Google Apps customers (including Google Apps for Business, Government and Education). This is exciting news for Google Apps customers who want to take advantage of Google+ in their workplace but want more control over how the service is used. Some of the key features include:

  • Private company sharing
  • Private online video meetings
  • Ability to restrict user’s posts
  • Ability for administrators to control default company settings

However there is one thing company owners need to be aware of that may not be obvious with this new offering. This service is not part of the Google Apps suite – at least not yet.

Some may ask why it matters whether Google+ is consider part of Google Apps or not. The answer is: it does matter since the terms that govern the use of Google+ are different than the terms used for the Google Apps suite. Google points this out at the bottom of the information page[1] for the new service that it is not part of Google Apps but only as it relates to support terms and SLAs. To complete the picture, one needs to also look at the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Terms of Service

I signed up for the preview for the premium version of Google+ and added it to my Google Apps for Business services, which I pay for. Normally when I am using a standard Google Apps service such as Gmail, I can click the Terms of Service link at the bottom of the page and I am taken to the special Terms of Service page that applies to contracted users of Google Apps. However, when I am using Google+, a different Terms of Services page is displayed. In fact, these are the standard Terms of Service that apply to almost all of Google’s consumer-oriented services such as Search, YouTube and Picasa.

The biggest issue I have, and have had for some time, is how Google treats my content that is uploaded to its consumer services. Simply put, for the Google Apps services, Google does not have a license to my content. For non-Google Apps service, such as the new Google+ for business, Google has full rights to use my data pretty much any way it likes. Specifically the Terms state:

Your Content in our Services

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.

I have seen other bloggers comment on these terms but usually they do so out of context. For that I reason I am including the entire text regarding content use. I haven’t highlighted any sections since the clause is pretty straight forward and speaks for itself. Basically you own the content, but you grant Google a broad license to the content. Maybe this is fine for a free consumer service, but this type of license has no place in a business offering in my opinion. If I am using Google+ to make internal announcements to my company or as a “Hangout” service for company meetings, I don’t want Google to have access to that content for the purpose of “promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.”

Privacy Policy

Ah our old friend the Google Privacy Policy. A lot has been written by commenters (including myself) and regulators all over the globe on the concerns people have with the new Google Privacy Policy that went into effect back on March 1. For those new to the debate, the key concerns are:

  • Google has the right to collect and use a vast amount of personal information including “your name, email address, telephone number or credit card”, “your name and photo”, “device-specific information (such as your hardware model, operating system version, unique device identifiers, and mobile network information including phone number)”, log information, location information, cookies and more.
  • Google can combine all the information it gathers across all Google services you use and create a single Google Profile or online dossier. This includes combining information from both private business services such as Gmail when used with Google Apps for Business and Google Search, which is not part of the Google Apps for Business offering.
  • Google can use the information “to provide, maintain, protect and improve them, to develop new ones, and to protect Google and our users. We also use this information to offer you tailored content – like giving you more relevant search results and ads.”

Again, maybe users are okay with this as a form of payment in exchange for using Google’s free consumer-oriented services. Trade your identity and online habits in exchange for being presented with more relevant ads. However, this type of invasive language has no place in a service contract intended for business use. In fact, Google agreed and stated “the new Privacy Policy does not change our contractual agreements, which have always superseded Google’s Privacy Policy for enterprise customers.” However hard I try, am unable to find evidence that there is a special privacy policy for “enterprise customers using Google Apps for Government, Business or Education.” In my own Google Apps for Business environment, all the services have links at the bottom of the page to the standard Google Privacy Policy. Google’s own page on Google Apps for Business points to the standard privacy policy. The Google Apps Terms of Service points to the standard privacy policy. The Google Apps for Government and Education pages point to the same privacy policy. And of course, the new Google+ for Business service uses the standard privacy policy.

From what I can see, this single privacy policy applies to all Google services – both business services and consumer services.

Blurring the line between consumer and business services and terms

The biggest issue with all of this is the co-mingling of personal data with business data and consumer data. When I use a business service, I want to know that my data is only being used and seen by my business. If I use a consumer service, I don’t want that service to gain access to my business data. Yet both of these points are not true with Google Apps.

It is time for Google to clearly define the boundaries between its professional service offerings and its ad-driven consumer services. Business, education and government data that is entering into Google Apps should not be used by Google for any purpose other than delivering the service.

[1] The fine print says: Google+ is not part of the core Google Apps suite, is not covered by the Google Apps support terms and is not covered by the Google Apps uptime guarantee SLA. This service may not be available in all areas and is subject to change without notice. For more information, please visit the Technical Support Services Guidelines.

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