How far do Google Drive's terms go in 'owning' your files?

How far do Google Drive's terms go in 'owning' your files?

Summary: Google Drive's terms of service allows you to still own your own files, but grants the company a license to do 'as it wants' with your uploaded content.


Within hours of Google launching its new online storage service, the terms and service have come under heavy fire by the wider community for how it handles users' copyright and intellectual property rights.

After Dropbox and Microsoft's SkyDrive --- the two most popular online storage services on the web --- Google was late to the party by a number of years. While Google needed no advertising to drum up support, what may hold back uptake is that as per the company's terms and conditions, the rights to the files you upload to Google Drive will be passed on to the search giant.

A quick analysis of Google's terms of service shows how far the search company goes in 'owning' your files, and how it can do anything it wants with them.

But there is a small catch. Here's what the terms say:

Dropbox --- terms can be found here:

"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."

Microsoft's SkyDrive --- terms can be found here:

"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."

Google Drive --- terms can be found here:

"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.

The rights that you grant in this licence are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This licence continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing that you have added to Google Maps)."

The last sentence makes all the difference. While these rights are limited to essentially making Google Drive better and to develop new services run by Google, the scope is not defined and could extend far further than one would expect.

Simply put: there's no definitive boundary that keeps Google from using what it likes from what you upload to its service.

Having said that, it also states:

"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."

According to its terms, Google does not own user-uploaded files to Google Drive, but the company can do whatever it likes with them. ZDNet's Ed Bott has more.

The chances are Google's terms will never be an issue --- and it is likely over-zealous lawyers making sure Google doesn't somehow get screwed in the long run by a lawsuit --- but it may be enough to push away a great number of entrepreneurs and creative workers who rely on holding on to the rights to their own work.
It always pays to read the fine print.

I asked Google to see if they can shed light on how its terms of service translates in comparison to other, rival services. Google did not respond at the time of publication.

Update: added paragraph, edited for clarity.

Image credit: Ed Rhee/CNET.


Topics: Google, Enterprise Software, Legal

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Wow. This is insane. Businesses beware.

    This article highlights how dangerous it is for businesses to use consumer services like Google Drive for storing sensitive files. Scary.
    Aaron Endre
    • Don't trust anybody!

      You shouldn't use any cloud service to store sensitive data. Just because they have a TOS saying they won't violate your data doesn't mean some mouth breathing computer operator won't rifle through your stuff when nobody's looking.
      • But at least if its discovered that someone is, they get fired

        Okay, true enough. But at least those terms of service on those services (i.e. SkyDrive) make it essentially against company policy to look at the data uploaded by their users. That means if they are found to be looking at someone's data without permission, they get fired. It would also open up the company to lawsuits because they breached their terms of service, which is not something they want to do to themselves on purpose.

        At Google, it's just another day at work.
      • Re: DTA

        A million times this. Won't even be an operator, they'll blame their bots/scripts. The cloud is overrated.
      • It's not just storage...

        I run a small website development company and I use Skydrive to allow my clients to transfer large files to me, and vise-versa. I can't use Google Drive because I can't take the chance that my clients might be giving rights to Google to their intellectual property. With Skydrive, I don't worry about it.
    • Total FUD

      This TOS has nothing to do with the business/government/edu editions of these services.
    • Use Encryption for Confidential Information

      If you have confidential information or Intellectual Property that you wish to put on a cloud service, it's your duty to protect yourself and your company by encrypting that data before it hits the cloud service. This is simple to do with encrypted filesystems or apps that help out.

      If you're on mac/linux (free):

      mac/linux/ios/windows/android (paid):

      Trusting some third party service to keep your data safe without having the ability to verify that it is safe is a mistake.
      dave koston
    • google drive dirct download

      This is the only way to create direct download link to a file on Google Drive . This is a free download link of a tool which is provided by the google to create direct download link
      Mahrukh Hashmi
  • re: How far does Google Drive's terms etc.

    Google really does need to clarify this. Why would Google want to translate your docs?

    OTOH none of these cloud thingies can operate without users assigning some rights. Legally they can't make a backup without permission.

    none none
    • Your permission to backup is implied...

      Your permission to let them back up your data is implied when you sign up, download, install and sign in to the program to have it uploaded to their service.

      So I think your point is kind of moot.
    • "Why would Google want to translate your docs?"

      Because these are not terms specifically for Google Drive, but for all Google Services. Google does not want to translate your files but (for example) your website or your entry in search engine result pages. Google recently consolidated their 60-odd TOS documents for their different services into one document which is a lot easier to understand but does not fit any single of their services very well. So, while the issue is real I think the zdnet article fails to give the proper background.
      Eike Pierstorff
      • There's another reason...

        There's a little nuance where nothing is "implied" when it comes to law. It has to be explicitly stated so. So, let's say there is a "translate" button in Google Docs that allows the user to actively translate one of their own docs. In order to be legally safe to do so, Google must mention in their terms that they have the right to translate the document in order to provide the service.

        In other words, we all have two options. Either we are faced with a paragraph of legalese every time we click a button or hit a ctrl-key in a web application... OR, the terms mention every imaginable thing they would ever need to do to a document to provide the service to you.

        Also, typing "frog" into a document, highlighting it, then clicking the "bold" button... and having this be stored in Google's servers as "<b>frog</b>" may also be construed as a "translation".
  • Google...

    doesn't need to clarify anything. It's pretty clear. They can use what you upload to further their interests, period.
  • Why even risk it?

    There are other similar services of the same caliber, so why would you risk any thing with g?
  • Hell froze over yet?

    That's when I consider using Google Sh@t.
  • AS IF...

    "I asked Google to see if they can shed light on how its terms of service translates in comparison to other, rival services. Google did not respond at the time of publication."

    AS IF Google would respond to a Microsoft/ZDNet website.
  • Why did you cut out the first part of their TOS?

    Their TOS starts:

    "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."
    • You still own it, but have granted Google a perpetual use licence ...

      ... which may stuff up your future use of the IP (like exclusively licensing it), plus possibly render you liable for stuffing up anybody else's IP you stupidly uploaded.

      These cloud services should be fully encrypted and not allow anybody but you access to the files.

      It is obvious that Google wants to be able to display YOUR content in search results, which is most likely NOT what anybody really wants with their private or commercial data.
      • That's why client-side encryption makes sense.

        If you want to use Google Drive (or any other cloud storage provider) secure, you will need to encrypt your data on your client because this is the only way to keep your data secure.
        It is possible that your data gets lost by the cloud storage provider by chance (see Dropbox last year) and someone gets it and has full access to it - that's not what we want and that's why we started Cloudfogger - to address exactly this problem.
      • Search results? Please.

        ZDNet is doing some selective quoting. They've omitted the part of the ToS that states: "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."

        They're referring to privacy settings. Unless you make a doc or picture or file publicly accessible, Google isn't going to display it. They're not going to use it for promotion. They're not going to put it in search results.

        As for the creation of derivative works and the like, this is necessary for them to operate their service. If you use Drive to convert a pdf into a Google Doc, that's Google creating a derivative work, and as such they need cover.

        I will agree that these ToS need some editing, though, just to nip all this fear mongering in the bud.