Google clones Dropbox: lock, stock, and privacy gaffe

Summary:Google Drive looks like just another ho-hum Dropbox clone. Same feature set, same market positioning. But was it really necessary for Google to copy the outrageously unfair terms of service Dropbox published and then hastily dropped last summer?

What color is the sun on Planet Google?

Seriously, does this company breathe the same air the rest of us humans do?

Yesterday, Google debuted its long-rumored Google Drive service. As far as I can tell, it's a ho-hum Dropbox clone, mashed up with Google Docs. I can't tell for myself because Google is still "preparing my drive" and will "email me when it's ready." So all I can do is rely on the reports of journalists who were granted early access, all of whom happened to be Google fans. Hmmm.

But if you're going to clone someone else's product, maybe you could look back at that company's history and avoid making the same dumb mistakes they did?

Not on Planet Google.

Last July, Dropbox published a revised Terms of Service. A revision published on July 1, 2011, originally contained this jaw-dropping paragraph:

By submitting your stuff to the Services, you grant us (and those we work with to provide the Services) worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display that stuff to the extent reasonably necessary for the Service.

Within days, Dropbox revised its TOS again, adding a clarifying sentence: “This license is solely to enable us to technically administer, display, and operate the Services.” But the damage had already been done. It's hard to recover trust when it's lost.

Last summer, I looked at the Terms of Service for Dropbox and its competitors. I've now updated that post with a fresh look at the terms of service for Apple, Google, Dropbox, Microsoft, and more: Your data, your rights: how fair are online storage services?

So today, Google Drive debuts, with an equally jaw-dropping terms of service:

Your Content in our Services: When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide licence 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.

Did no one in Mountain View look at that document and say, "I wonder what our users will think of this?" Apparently not. Did anyone say, "Hey, remember when Dropbox did this and had to apologize for an entire week?" I guess not.

Google PR is now trying to walk back the damage. In a statement to Business Insider, a spokesperson tried the "stop, drop, and roll" gambit recommended when you have accidentally set yourself on fire:

A Google spokesperson pointed us to a few passages that should help clear things up. To put it in context, Google's policy is very similar to Dropbox's...

Here's the key passages from Google's terms of service you should know:

"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."

So Google only needs to access your files in order to deliver them to your Google Drive account on the web, phone, tablet, etc. It's very limited.

Feel reassured? Yeah, me neither.

Last summer Ben Schorr provided an excellent analysis of the Drobpbox TOS:

Even the botox fanatics among you should have a raised eyebrow at this point. The very words “distribute” and “publicly display” should be all you really need to hear.

Now some of you are saying “Oh, sure, the agreement says that but they won’t really DO it.” Fair enough. Many of you reading this are lawyers (I know my audience), would you encourage your client to sign an agreement that says the other side has the right to do something onerous with the caveat that “I know it says they’re allowed to do it, but they won’t really do it.” This agreement gives them permission to do it. Do you take their word that they won’t? Up to you.

Google used those exact same words, with absolutely no awareness that a direct competitor had already made the exact same mistake just a few months earlier.

It's a perfect example of Google's inability to pay even the slightest bit of attention to anything that happens outside the Googleplex.

I can't wait to see whose other mistakes show up when I finally get a chance to look at Google Drive.

Topics: Google, CXO, Enterprise Software, IT Employment

About

Ed Bott is an award-winning technology writer with more than two decades' experience writing for mainstream media outlets and online publications. He has served as editor of the U.S. edition of PC Computing and managing editor of PC World; both publications had monthly paid circulation in excess of 1 million during his tenure. He is the a... Full Bio

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