Your data, your rights: how fair are online storage services?

Google caused a flap this week with seemingly unfair terms of service for its new Google Drive service. But are those terms really different from the competition? I've gathered equivalent terms from Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Dropbox, and more, so you can judge for yourself.

With the launch of Google Drive this week, Google stirred up a hornet's nest, thanks to its inclusion of terms of service that appear to grant it more rights than it needs.

As I noted last night, this isn't a new controversy. Dropbox suffered a similar public backlash last summer over similar wording. In July 2011, I reviewed the terms of service for every major online file-sharing service so you can see for yourself what right you give up when you use any of these services.

This post takes a fresh look at those terms of service.

The following text is taken from the publicly available terms of service for popular cloud-based file storage services.*

All text is copied directly from the linked terms of service pages as of April 25, 2012. It is possible, indeed likely, that companies listed here will change these terms in the future. Do not rely on these excerpts to make any decisions without consulting the current terms and getting your own, independent legal advice.

Amazon Web Services

These terms are unchanged from those in effect in July 2011.

8.1 Your Content. As between you and us, you or your licensors own all right, title, and interest in and to Your Content. Except as provided in this Section 8, we obtain no rights under this Agreement from you or your licensors to Your Content, including any related intellectual property rights. You consent to our use of Your Content to provide the Service Offerings to you and any End Users. We may disclose Your Content to provide the Service Offerings to you or any End Users or to comply with any request of a governmental or regulatory body (including subpoenas or court orders).

Apple iCloud

These terms are similar to those provided by the MobileMe service, which iCloud replaced.

Content Submitted or Made Available by You on the Service

License from You

Except for material we may license to you, Apple does not claim ownership of the materials and/or Content you submit or make available on the Service. However, by submitting or posting such Content on areas of the Service that are accessible by the public or other users with whom you consent to share such Content, you grant Apple a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Service solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available, without any compensation or obligation to you. You agree that any Content submitted or posted by you shall be your sole responsibility, shall not infringe or violate the rights of any other party or violate any laws, contribute to or encourage infringing or otherwise unlawful conduct, or otherwise be obscene, objectionable, or in poor taste. By submitting or posting such Content on areas of the Service that are accessible by the public or other users, you are representing that you are the owner of such material and/or have all necessary rights, licenses, and authorization to distribute it.

Changes to Content

You understand that in order to provide the Service and make your Content available thereon, Apple may transmit your Content across various public networks, in various media, and modify or change your Content to comply with technical requirements of connecting networks or devices or computers. You agree that the license herein permits Apple to take any such actions.

Box (formerly Box.net)

The company has changed its name slightly (dropping the .net). These terms incorporate the new name but otherwise have not changed since last summer.

D. USER CONDUCT/ACCEPTABLE USE POLICY.

[…]

To the extent that the Services provide Users an opportunity to store and exchange information, materials, data, files, programs, ideas and opinions (“User Content”), you hereby represent and warrant that you have all necessary rights in and to all User Content you provide and all information contained therein. By registering to use the Services, you understand and acknowledge that Box and its contractors retain an irrevocable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use, copy, and publicly display such content for the sole purpose of providing to you the Services for which you have registered. In the event that you give Box the right to distribute your content, additional terms may apply to Box's usage or distribution of this content.  You continue to retain all ownership rights in any User Content you provide and shall remain solely responsible for your conduct, your User Content, and any material or information transmitted to other Users for interaction with other Users.  Box does not claim any ownership rights in any User Content.

Dropbox

The company has revised these terms since last summer. In general, those revisions appear to have been for the specific purpose of making their intent clearer. I wish every tech company would write agreements that were this clear and free of jargon.

Your Stuff & Your Privacy

By using our Services you provide us with information, files, and folders that you submit to Dropbox (together, “your stuff”). You retain full ownership to your stuff. We don’t claim any ownership to any of it. These Terms do not grant us any rights to your stuff or intellectual property except for the limited rights that are needed to run the Services, as explained below.

We may need your permission to do things you ask us to do with your stuff, for example, hosting your files, or sharing them at your direction. This includes product features visible to you, for example, image thumbnails or document previews. It also includes design choices we make to technically administer our Services, for example, how we redundantly backup data to keep it safe. You give us the permissions we need to do those things solely to provide the Services. This permission also extends to trusted third parties we work with to provide the Services, for example Amazon, which provides our storage space (again, only to provide the Services).

To be clear, aside from the rare exceptions we identify in our Privacy Policy, no matter how the Services change, we won’t share your content with others, including law enforcement, for any purpose unless you direct us to. How we collect and use your information generally is also explained in our Privacy Policy.

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Google Drive

These terms are dramatically different from those that were in place last summer. In particular, the language that allows the license to continue even if you stop using the service is unlike any other service. I'll look more closely at those changes in a separate post. This is the current language, as modified March 1, 2012.

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.

Microsoft Online Services

This agreement covers most of Microsoft’s business-related offerings, including Exchange and SharePoint Online, Office 365, Office Web Applications, and the Windows Azure Platform, among others.

m. Your Customer Data. You may be able to submit customer data for use in connection with the online service. “Customer data” are all data, including all text, sound, or image files and software that are provided to us by, or on behalf of, you through your use of the online service. When you submit customer data for use with any online service that enables communication or collaboration with third parties, you acknowledge that those third parties may then be able to:

  • Use, copy, distribute, display, publish, and modify your customer data;
  • Publish your name in connection with the customer data; and
  • Facilitate others’ ability to do the same.

Some online services may offer functionality that restricts third parties’ ability to do so. It is your responsibility to make use of that functionality as appropriate for your intended use of your customer data.

You agree to secure rights in your customer data necessary for us to provide you the online service without violating the rights of any third party, or otherwise obligating Microsoft to you or any third party. Microsoft does not and will not accept any obligations set forth in any separate license or other agreement that may apply to your customer data or use of the online service.

n. Ownership of customer data. As between the parties, you retain all right, title and interest in and to customer data. We acquire no rights in customer data, other than the rights you grant to us for the applicable online service. This does not apply to software or services we license you.

Microsoft SkyDrive

These terms apply to all Windows Live services and are unchanged from last summer.

5. Your Content

Except for material that we license to you, we don't claim ownership of the content you provide on the service. Your content remains your content. We also don't control, verify, or endorse the content that you and others make available on the service.

You control who may access your content. If you share content in public areas of the service or in shared areas available to others you’ve chosen, then you agree that anyone you’ve shared content with may use that content. When you give others access to your content on the service, you grant them free, nonexclusive permission to use, reproduce, distribute, display, transmit, and communicate to the public the content solely in connection with the service and other products and services made available by Microsoft. If you don’t want others to have those rights, don’t use the service to share your content.

You understand that Microsoft may need, and you hereby grant Microsoft the right, to use, modify, adapt, reproduce, distribute, and display content posted on the service solely to the extent necessary to provide the service.

SugarSync

These terms are unchanged from last summer.

File Sync, Storage and Confidentiality

After setting up your account and downloading our Software, you can select the Files you want to sync and/or store. You can change the Files you want to sync or store whenever you want. In order to make the Service available to you, we need your permission to sync and store your Files. Accordingly, you hereby grant to SugarSync a license: (i) to use, copy, transmit, distribute, store and cache Files that you choose to sync and/or store; and (ii) to copy, transmit, publish, and distribute to others the Files as you designate, whether through the sharing or public linking features of the Service, in each case solely to provide the Service to you.

Your Files are not accessible by third parties unless you elect to make them available to others through the Service. We respect the privacy and confidentiality of your Files, so we agree never to disclose your Files to anyone unless you instruct us to do so or a court orders us to disclose them, as provided in our Privacy Policy.

Ubuntu One

This service, run by Canonical Group Ltd, allows users to “store files online, synchronise files across their computers, and share files with others. Additional services will be added in the future.”

Its terms of service do not include any language covering rights to those files. In fact, the only use of the word rights is in relation to third-party content that may be “in breach of any law, regulation or third party's rights.”

* The list above does not include services whose primary purpose is backup, such as Carbonite and CrashPlan, nor does it include public file-sharing services such as RapidShare and MegaUpload. I have also omitted forwarding services like YouSendIt.

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