Convenience over privacy: Is Dropbox watching you?

Convenience over privacy: Is Dropbox watching you?

Summary: Enterprise buyers should use Dropbox for everyday file transfers where you value convenience over an absolute guarantee of privacy.

TOPICS: Hardware, CXO, iPad, Mobility

Like many others, I use Dropbox to synchronize files among my computers and iPad. Dropbox is especially useful when traveling, as I often do.

Lately, a kerfuffle has emerged regarding the company's terms of service, which include particularly onerous language:

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.

This statement says the company can use your data pretty much as it chooses, a position that the next sentence attempts to mitigate:

This license is solely to enable us to technically administer, display, and operate the Services.

That last sentence qualifies the core issue by saying they can only use your data to operate their service. However, this language is ambiguous and therefore subject to interpretation. For example, perhaps Dropbox will want to scan your files to provide context-sensitive ads like Google. That would certainly fit within the definition of "technically administering" the service, as would many other activities that you may or may not find acceptable.

Advice to enterprise buyers. Dropbox offers a great service and useful free accounts, which is an attractive combination. Unfortunately, the terms of service do not offer adequate protections against sensitive data. For this reason, I suggest you discontinue use of the product for applications where privacy and confidentiality are mission critical.

In practice, however, Dropbox is unlikely to read your "stuff" or prepare derivative works, despite what's in the terms of service. Therefore, continue using Dropbox for everyday file transfers where you value convenience over an absolute guarantee of privacy.

Photo by Michael Krigsman

Topics: Hardware, CXO, iPad, Mobility

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  • RE: Convenience over privacy: Is Dropbox watching you?

    Its a fair recommandation. With their latest TOS i discontinued all my familys account. Do you know any good alternative?
    •, free 25GB, free office web apps, nt

    • Nomadesk

      Nomadesk is a Belgium based cloud service and far more secure than anything else I've seen. Unlimited backup, Theftguard, 5 mobile apps, about six bucks a month for a personal fileserver. @ydecelles@...
  • RE: Convenience over privacy: Is Dropbox watching you?

    Couldn't a user encrypt the data before uploading to dropbox? Good luck trying to use something that is 128 bit encrypted! I would never put my precious data in the cloud. Too easy to get hacked.
    • RE: Convenience over privacy: Is Dropbox watching you?


      I was going to ask just this. Which I totally agree with you. I won't post anything on someone else's servers, unless it IS encrypted. In fact, I have a simple FTP server at the house. Only I, and family can get into it (Normally), but that data is also encrypted. That is my own personal 'cloud' or dropbox. That's got to be a lot safer, and trustworthy than any large company offering cloud services.

      - Kc
  • RE: Convenience over privacy: Is Dropbox watching you?

    There is this thing called "Encryption". It solves your problems (but might make things a little more complicated)
    • RE: Convenience over privacy: Is Dropbox watching you?

      @Doug0915 Encryption is great, but makes the process more complicated, so it's not ideal.
  • RE: Convenience over privacy: Is Dropbox watching you?

    I don't suggest it for business related files of any type at anytime. Having an inhouse portal that could be used to share with clients is always much better and protective.
    Ram U
  • SugarSync

    Why not use SugarSync? I am going to get a free acct. and see what the service is like. It is rated highly.<br><br>Yes, if placing items in DropBox I would encrypt. I use AxCrypt

    UPDATE: Went to their site on Chrome and got a warning about the connection that others may be able to view data -- using Firefox and IE9 I get no such warning. Anyone know why this is???
  • TrueCrypt is your friend

    One should ALWAYS encrypt files on their own computer before putting it on a public server. I usually use GnuPG to to encrypt files since nobody but I have the keys to decrypt my own files. TrueCrypt is a good alternative if you don't like command line prompts. If Dropbox wants to see and publish my data, they will only see ciphertext. The only hope for them to get my data is if they beat the encryption keys out of me.
  • Talk to a copyright/software attorney next time...

    OK. An article that got a lot of people shaking. Next time a chat with a copyright/media attorney could provide a lot of insight.

    This is a big deal about nothing. But the discussion has led DropBox to revisit their TOS/Privacy statements and make them more understandable/less scary to the layman. DropBox is not asking to do anything more with what you upload than Gmail, Evernote or that cloud crap that Microsoft is offering...and they make clear they are going to do nothing with it that is not necessary to providing you the services you have contracted them to do. Period.
    • RE: Convenience over privacy: Is Dropbox watching you?

      @MABBY Just because all these other services have similar terms does not mean the consumer is protected. See this post from Dave Winer, for his reaction:
  • So glad I use Nomadesk

    I'd rather not have to worry. So I'll stick with Nomadesk. That hawk picture made me jump a little...