Google clones Dropbox: lock, stock, and privacy gaffe

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?

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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

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136 comments
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  • So does this mean...

    ... Google Drive also has the same log on credentials slip up? And people call me insane for not "going Google". Its TOS is all but word for word a copy of DropBox's. Unbelievable.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • I head Google originaly wanted to call the service

      Gropbox.
      William Farrel
      • GooBox

        GooBox, very sticky and messy...
        Raid60
    • Unbelievable?

      If it won't be Google to "borrow" it, then who else?
      danbi
  • Google want to display your stuff in search results

    And they want people to pay for giving them a perpetual use and sync licence?

    I'd better go and read what the new common TOS says about our YouTube content.
    Patanjali
  • Google .... the "me too" company

    When was the last time that Google did anything original and not a "me too" product?
    wackoae
    • google is the most innovative company

      they created google+, android and many others in the last 5 years.
      The Linux Geek
      • heh.

        Could you possible have chosen worse products for your comparison? Google+ is a twitter/facebook ripoff, android was created directly to compete with iOS (same grids/icons/layout)...

        At least gMail is innovative.
        henningp@...
      • They bought android!

        wackose does have a point, aside from google+ and obviously the original search algorithm when was the last time google organically created something?

        If you think buying companies and rebranding is innovation then surely IBM or Dell are more innovative companies as they buy lots of companies?
        the.nameless.drifter
      • Back to the fry station little boy...

        smoke break is over.
        TheBottomLineIsAllThatMatters
      • Innovative, in one field

        They are very innovative in one thing: to steal from others.

        Software, ideas, designs, services, your private data.. You name it.
        Well, not stealing, that is not politically correct with readers to our friends Google - they are only borrowing. Creatively at that.
        danbi
      • @henningp

        Google+ is a twitter/facebook ripoff, android was created directly to compete with iOS (same grids/icons/layout)..."

        If Google+ was Facebook ripoff why did it have featrues that facebook did not have until they ripped them off from Google+?

        Grids/icons/layout were already prior art long before Apple used it for IOS. Icons in a grid layout was around before Apple or MS used them in their earliest OSes (both having ripped it off from Xerox). http://microsoft-news.com/bill-gates-response-to-steve-jobs-on-windows-rip-off-claim/

        The actual icons are near universal (as they must be so that when someone sees an icon for USB or email they know what they are looking at). Apples icons for the most part look like icons used in the computer industry for decades before the Iphone.

        There was nothing new or innovative about touch screens and icons in a grid layout on multiple "home" screens either. The same interface was used by Palm and Windows CE devices which were only lacking a cellular antennas and 3G technology for high speed data to become "smartphones".

        Multi-touch capability is the only innovative technology in any modern smartphone and it was not developed by Apple either. Many companies were working on multi-touch when Apple bought out one of the companies researching it. The university of Toronto began research on multi-touch in 1982 and developed the first multi-touch tablet (yes, tablet!) based on capacitance in 1985. (Now just when did the Ipad come out?) Apple acquired Fingerworks one of the companies leading in multi-touch technology in 2005 and was the first to implement it in a mobile device in (2006) for the consumer but its use predates even Fingerworks and there are many implementations of the technology.

        There is no progress today that is not based upon the works of others. Google no more "copied" Apple than Apple copied others that came before Apple.
        techadmin.cc@...
    • Define "Original".

      Chrome has been almost absurdly successful. While a new browser certainly isn't "anything original", the fact that Firefox and IE have changed their product to resemble Chrome in virtually every way imaginable is pretty impressive. I guess I just don't understand the Google hate. They make some mistakes, and they do some great stuff. What's to hate?
      Chadzo69
      • Not hate, fear...

        ...as in "all your bases are belong to us". If their TOS says they have a right to use any content you upload for whatever purposes they desire and you agree then upload, then basically you are surrendering all copyrights to that content. Basically, you upload it, you retain ownership copyrights but you transfer indefinite usage copyrights to Google as long as the content remains on their systems, which can be a very long time, because while you may delete it from the original store where you placed it, Google has backups and redundancies, they have copied and altered for their own purposes which means the altered version (even if it's one pixel in a photo) is theirs and theirs alone. You don't get mutual copyright exchange of the work they've altered.
        PollyProteus
      • @PollyProteus

        I can't say I like the TOS and I was unaware that DRopbox had used those same TOS either. Facebook, also has similar TOS as do most providers of "free" services if you care to check.

        I'm not excusing Google but why is Google the only company getting called out on this?
        techadmin.cc@...
    • you've got a point, but

      consumers are better off with 'innovation' and 'competition'. they are doing at least one thing right.
      runnerup
    • Funny reading the haters

      I think that that are on par with apple, except that apple markets better.
      ktw.zd.net
    • Google Earth

      What competing product does Google Earth copy?

      Heck, it's difficult to think of a technology company that comes up with truly 'new' ideas.

      Apple? There were tablets before the iPad, Mp3 players before the iPod, and smartphones before the iPhone.

      Microsoft? There were game consoles before the X Box and Mp3 players before the Zune.

      Who does anything genuinely new?
      Doctor Demento
      • Google Earth was an acquisition

        >> What competing product does Google Earth copy?

        None. It was an acquisition that Google basically messed up. Acquisitions are not innovation. Does anyone outside of CNN actually use Google Earth anymore?
        terjeb@...
      • NASA & possibly Microsoft

        World Wide Wind and TerraServer
        mary.branscombe