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

Summary: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.

Page 2: Google, Microsoft, SugarSync, and Ubuntu One -->

Topics: Enterprise Software, Legal, Microsoft

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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