Google's inconsistent service policies

Summary:Josh Greenbaum asserts:Google is the new evil empire – but now I really am beginning to believe it. I know that user agreements are typically ignored by most users, but anyone in the corporate world who ignores this risks seeing their IP in a Google marketing campaign, or worse.

Josh Greenbaum asserts:

Google is the new evil empire – but now I really am beginning to believe it. I know that user agreements are typically ignored by most users, but anyone in the corporate world who ignores this risks seeing their IP in a Google marketing campaign, or worse.

He's right. As I've said before, Google's terms of service need updating. Like Josh, I'm not a practising lawyer though I spent enough time arguing tax cases to know a mess when I see it. Here's a quick run down: GAPE Terms of Service: Para 9. Ownership; Restricted Use needs reading in full but whatever you make of it, I conclude it is a hopelessly muddled attempt at protecting Google's IP. Example: Why is this included in a paragraph about software IP?

Google does not own third party content used as part of the Service, including the content of communications appearing on the Service. Title, ownership rights, and Intellectual Property Rights in and to the content accessed through the Service are the property of the applicable content owner and may be protected by applicable copyright or other law.

GMail: On August 12th, I set out the terms under which Google handles mail and from these, it would seem your data is private to you. But I caveated:

...as far as I can tell, there has been no substantial update to those terms since 2004. Since then, Google’s algorithms have become more powerful and Google’s business has become a lot more complex. While humans many not be reading my email, Google machines most certainly are parsing every bit and byte. That sounds to me like my ‘data’ has become ‘information’ and it is the contextual link that makes my data valuable - to someone. If I’m an enterprise CIO, that has significant potential consequences in a SOX driven world.

Google Docs and Spreadsheets: This is where Josh is fuming and I don't blame him but once again, we're faced with inconsistency. According to those TOS:

Google claims no ownership or control over any Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through Google services. You or a third party licensor, as appropriate, retain all patent, trademark and copyright to any Content you submit, post or display on or through Google services and you are responsible for protecting those rights, as appropriate.

So far so good - I own my data - great.

By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through Google services which are intended to be available to the members of the public, you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, modify, publish and distribute such Content on Google services for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting Google services.

Again, so far so good - there's no reason not to grant them a license to use though I would prefer Creative Commons with Attribution.

Google reserves the right to syndicate Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through Google services and use that Content in connection with any service offered by Google. Google furthermore reserves the right to refuse to accept, post, display or transmit any Content in its sole discretion.

This is wholly inconsistent with what went before. It directly contradicts what was said earlier.

Google Calendar terms of service state:

Your Intellectual Property Rights. Google does not claim any ownership in any of the content, including any text, data, information, images, photographs, music, sound, video, or other material, that you upload, transmit or store in your Google Calendar calendars. We will not use any of your content for any purpose except to provide you with the Service.

All pretty straightforward but inconsistent with the totality of other rights related to other services.

Google is imposing a series of inconsistent rights across different services that make up the GAPE offering. But fear not because over-riding all of these are Google's general TOS. They state:

11. Content licence from you

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This licence is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

11.2 You agree that this licence includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organisations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.

11.3 You understand that Google, in performing the required technical steps to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various media; and (b) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or media. You agree that this licence shall permit Google to take these actions.

11.4 You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the above licence.

I leave it to the lawyerly brethern to chew over this lot but as an advisor to business decision makers, I don't need a lawyer to tell me this is an unholy mess where my rights are unclear and where my privacy is at risk. Unlike Josh, I find it hard to believe Google wants part ownership of my data. It wants to send contextual advertising. To that extent, it needs to analyze and understand what's going on in the things I commit to GAPE. The conclusion I've come to is that like so much that comes out of Google, it is half baked and poorly thought through. Enterprise doesn't like that and will not tolerate this level of uncertainty.

Topics: Google

About

Dennis Howlett has been providing comment and analysis on enterprise software since 1991 in a variety of European trade and professional journals including CFO Magazine, The Economist and Information Week. Today, apart from being a full time blogger on innovation for professional services organisations, he is a founding member of Enterpri... Full Bio

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