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

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.

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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

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38 comments
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  • the people must choose google

    because of its reputation and enhanced privacy.
    Too many options are confusing and people should coalesce around the market leader for online services and advertising to avoid fragmentation.
    Google's competitors are just some lame "me too" and "Johny come late".
    The Linux Geek
    • Ads and Data Don't Go Together

      Trusting my data to an advertising company! Not a good idea. This is why I don't trust Facebook with my data. At least in that case the information is what I want to share.
      jatbains
      • Then don't trust te other advertising company!

        "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."
        And
        "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."

        Right there it spells out Microsoft's intent, which is to sell access to your data. Remember Microsoft is really pushing Bing, so they are willing to play fast and loose with your data to sell ads. There is no need to publish, and distribute, your data, to provide the storage of said data.
        Jumpin Jack Flash
      • Third parties are those you specify, not MS

        @Jumpin Jack Flash
        Learn to read TOS before you post.

        At no time in those quoted above does MS cite anything about third-parties they engage.

        Of course, other clauses may state who MS may engage.

        Your feeble attempt to try and tarnish MS with the poor customer privacy support of Google FAILED. There are likely other areas where MS may be dubious, but you are obviously too lazy to go find them yourself.
        Patanjali
      • Patanjali

        Did I get you all worked up? So now you need to rush in, and defend your deity? Microsoft specifically states they retain the right to distribute your data"[b]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[/b] that seems pretty clear, just because Microsoft doesn't lead in advertizing, doesn't mean they're better than Google.
        Jumpin Jack Flash
      • Nice editing.

        Did I get you all worked up? So now you need to rush in, and defend your deity? Microsoft specifically states they retain the right to distribute your data"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
        ***********************************

        Why'd you cut off the paragraph? You left out the part that reads "[b]solely to the extent necessary to provide the service[/b]
        Hallowed are the Ori
      • Hallowed are the Ori

        There is a term for those words. They're called weasel words, for a reason. Had those paragraphs been listed by any other company, the Microsoft fanboys would be jumping up and down screaming how Google/Apple/Drop box/etc. was selling off user data. But when it's Microsift, the tune suddenly changes. Why, because Microsoft would never put themselves first? No. Because Microsoft cares more about the users than money? Again, no. I keep hearing how Google/Apple/Yahoo/etc. are so evil, and bad, while Microsoft is so wonderful The sad truth is everyone of those companies will sell you down the river, for a buck. To claim that Microsoft is above that is to show how much of a fool you really are. When a known Microsoft apologist (and jatbains is a Microsoft apologist), starts singling out other companies, it's being done to make said company the focus and distract allantion from Microsoft's doings.
        Jumpin Jack Flash
      • Stick to the topic rather than your perverted ideology

        @Jumpin Jack Flash
        No-one here is giving MS a blanket pass here, but in this case, they are provided a far less invasive co-opting of uploaded data than Google.

        But you insist on your stupid and irrelevant rant about MS being bad, and deliberately ignoring obvious restrictions they undertake to fulfil.

        Pathetic reality distortion on your part really.
        Patanjali
      • @Jack

        You do realize that MS allows you to share your content with others, right? In order to do that they must DISTRIBUTE your content to the other user you selected to have that capability. If you put up an Office 2003 file and this other authorized (by you) user elects to open it up in Office 365, it may require some translation for it to work. It will then be DISPLAYED by Microsoft to that user.

        You really can't be that f*n stupid, are you?
        Bruce Epper
      • ultimitloozer

        "You really can't be that f*n stupid, are you? "
        No, but it seem you can. Microsoft has been proven to abuse any license they issue.There is a long, and well documented history of Microsoft abusing their customers, and the end users. After seeing Microsoft's latest scams, they are showing the willingness to do the same things that got them into trouble in the past again. I is the corporate culture at Microsoft that is corrupt. Microsoft believes that racketeering, extortion, and other corrupt business practices are a good thing. Had the original judge not let the vile creatures at Microsoft get under his skin, the world would be a much better place today.

        Patanjali:
        "No-one here is giving MS a blanket pass here, but in this case, [b]they are provided a far less invasive co-opting of uploaded data than Google.[/b]"
        Two words: "Prove it". Oh wait you can't, because it's not true. You Microsoft fanboys rail against the competition, and always give Microsoft a [b]blanket pass[/b]

        During the Antenna-gate rants, there were several WP 7 phones that had signal issues if you held the phone in a seemingly normal way. The HTC Touch Pro 2 I was issued at work also had an Antenna-gate issue. So maybe Mr. Jobs was right?

        Location-gate, Apple was wrong for not encrypting the data, but Microsoft was doing something even worse. They were collecting location data tied to the specific phone, and keeping it on their Bing servers. before the Man-goo update, you could simply go to Bing Maps, enter the Phone's Wifi address (wireless MAC address), and track the phones location without the user knowing it.
        www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2394009,00.asp
        What struck me odd about that, is the creepy stalker effect. But Microsoft was given a pass on these things. Apple also got lambasted when an update bricked Jailbroken phones, even though Apple said they couldn't guaranty it would work on modified phones. Microsoft was given a pass when the pre "No-doo" update bricked untouched phones. Are you seeing a pattern here? Attack the company without a history of abuse, while ignoring the company that has a long and well documented history of abuse.
        Jumpin Jack Flash
    • I don't disagree but...

      it's more like the other way around! Google often comes late to the party but typically makes a point to exceed what the other players are already offering. The best example is Gmail. They also have a real record of buying up the companies that started their (most popular/successful) products, as in Android, Picasa, YouTube, Earth/Maps (Keyhole), Voice Calling (Grand Central/Gizmo)...the list goes on. If you want the reallllly long list, look here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_acquisitions_by_Google If you were actually trying to be facetious with your comment, it escaped me because you forgot to turn your sarcasm on.

      I don't get it - you're a Linux Geek & too many options are confusing. Oh wait, I *do* get it - too many options is why more people don't use Linux! Just an observation, not a criticism...
      SES21
      • Spot on...

        ...with your comment on too many options. Too many choices can be a paralytic. Check out this TED talk on the subject.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VO6XEQIsCoM
        Bruce Epper
      • Market Consolidation

        I would agree too. Google will likely try to consolidate the cloud market in the next couple years. I could see them trying to buy smaller services like Box or Mozy.

        I don't understand the hostility in this privacy discussion. But I would say that users should NEVER put any files on a cloud server that they wouldn't want other people to see. I've actually reviewed some of the safer cloud storage services on my site....http://www.top10cloudstorage.com/online-backup/

        Check it out if you've got a minute!
        webstorage
    • Hey, you! Back under the bridge!

      nt
      mlashinsky@...
  • Topics

    Hi Ed,

    you covered several companies in your article, yet you listed only Microsoft Corp in your Topic list at the bottom. Is there a reason for this?
    ForeverSPb
    • The topic list is generated automatically

      That's done on the ZDNet back end. Although we bloggers can manually edit those, in practice we rarely do because those topics aren't really used elsewhere.
      Ed Bott
  • Nilay Patel of the Verge

    I think wrote an interesting article that keeps things in perspective.

    http://www.theverge.com/2012/4/25/2973849/google-drive-terms-privacy-data-skydrive-dropbox-icloud
    jonandkelly
    • Agreed

      It's a very good piece, although I think he misses one key point, which I have queued up for a discussion later.
      Ed Bott
    • Nice article...

      I think online storage providers are going to err on the side of "CYA" wherever possible. You raised many points that relate to what these companies may need to do to provide their service, but I think DMCA might be the biggest reason. When providers started being held responsible for the content being servied up from their servers, it was a major game changer.
      jasonp@...
  • I like how Apple requires your content not to be in poor taste

    "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, ...[or be] in poor taste."

    You post some pictures of someone with a checked shirt and striped pants and you've just violated the TOS :-).
    Flydog57