I am not a fan of Google's Terms of Service aka TOS. I never have been. But the amount of verbiage recently devoted to this topic is not only missing the point, I believe it is counter-productive. Here's the back story.
Google is the new evil empire – but now I really am beginning to believe it. I know that user agreements are typically ignored by most users, but anyone in the corporate world who ignores this risks seeing their IP in a Google marketing campaign, or worse.
He’s [Josh Greenbaum] right. As I’ve said before, Google’s terms of service need updating. Like Josh, I’m not a practising lawyer though I spent enough time arguing tax cases to know a mess when I see it.
It took Google a full four plus years to come close to remedying the situation through what are now its unified TOS. But even they are not to everyone's taste. Now we have G-Drive, Google's Dropbox clone and with it? The same blanket TOS that are being applied to all Google Apps.
Our own Ed Bott weighs in extensively on the topic here and here. Ed's not a lawyer, neither am I but it doesn't prevent us from being annoyed at things we think invade our privacy or which mess with what we believe to be our inalienable rights.
Nilay Patel has a crack at the topic - he is legally trained but not a practicing IP/copyright lawyer. He concludes:
Contracts are meaningful and important, but even the most noble promises can easily be broken. It's actions and history that have consequences, and companies that deal with user data on the web need to start building a history of squeaky-clean behavior before any of us can feel totally comfortable living in the cloud.
I get that. But what does 'squeaky-clean' mean? I have no idea because he doesn't explain other than to say:
What's most important is how much trust you're willing to give companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Dropbox as more and more of your data moves to the cloud.
I get that as well. But that's almost the last thing on my agenda. When assessing any service the FIRST thing I want to know is whether it is fit for purpose. I'm a long time Dropbox user and I may yet try out G-Drive. But I know that service has plenty of practical wrinkles that would prevent me from recommending it as a service in mixed PC/Mac environments. I suspect the same will be true for G-Drive but for different reasons.
Martijn Linssen attempts to provide answers, implying that functionality comes first but that Google might try to preface its TOS with some plain English. That wont work because whatever language is used in a contract is a part of the contract and therefore open to the same degree of interpretation as any other part. That's the problem with contracts as anyone who has been involved in a dispute knows.
How many time have you said: 'But I didn't mean that' or 'But I didn't know it might mean that?' It's happened to me on many an occasion. It is one reason why negotiating contracts is such a pain in the ass.
Martijn makes a point that's hard to disagree and upon which I believe we should be concentrating our attention:
Listen, Google: you got to change. Abandon the path of copying what the competition invented earlier, mixing that with all you have, and presenting that on a silver plate as a finished product that is frozen stiff.
Study the product-cycle, watch some striptease vids, learn how to lure and bait, skim the market layer by layer, piece by piece, and control yourself - don't give it all away mere seconds after you've made an entrance.
You're in the fast-fashion business whereas you should be in the slow-fashion one, dear Google. You have the money, the power and the glory to walk the catwalk - and keep or push every one else out. But when was the last time you did that?
Google has a long history of throwing things over the fence, seeing what sticks and then retiring that which doesn't take. It's a classic, new age 'fail fast' outfit. G-Drive may yet be another. We'll see, though the indications from Android Market...err...Google Play are that at least 10 million people at least want to try it out. That's a lot of market share in one day.
So please, if you like what Google delivers but do not like their TOS, toss a coin and either go elsewhere or put up and shut up until the people that Google DOES listen to - the regulators - get their claws into the company. It will happen soon enough.
By all means raise the issues but can we please have a little less hysteria and emotional appeals to fairness and more sober reflection of what we're actually doing here? As I said on Twitter, we're at the very early stages of seeing and using cloud storage. It will be a large industry. If anyone thinks they've got the lock on how contracts should be phrased then I would suggest they're living in La-La land. As Patel points out, the TOS all attempt to do what the vendor wants but I don't believe we have a full understanding of how to translate our needs into terms that can yet be parsed against the vendors' needs. That's always a game of give and take to which the vendors will (eventually) pay attention.
If it is our data and we choose to use services like G-Drive, Dropbox et al then it is our responsibility to assess whether the terms are those with which we can live. No lawyer can help us except to point out the addressable risks. Assuming they themselves understand and from what little I know, that knowledge is thin on the ground. It is a reflection of the state of the art.
Instead, I suggest that people considering this style of service FIRST go through the process of assessing their storage needs, ask themselves about the advantages they (might) get form cloud services, assess current, mid and long term requirements and THEN look at the TOS. Bleating about it after the event doesn't cut any ice. At least not with me.