/ Technology

Why I’d trust my files to Google or Microsoft

Cartoon of cloud storage

Cloud storage should be all about peace of mind. With your files backed up online, you don’t need to worry about losing a hard drive or having your laptop stolen. Your photos and documents are safe.

But wait, I hear you cry. Don’t you have to click ‘accept’ to terms and conditions used by cloud storage providers like Microsoft and Google? Terms that run into thousands of words and cover their rights to your files?

Well, yes, you do. And I won’t lie, some of these terms are scary-looking.

Take the T&Cs used by Google to cover its Google Drive cloud storage. Accept these, and you’re allowing Google to ‘use’, ‘reproduce’ and ‘modify’ your content. And, rather worryingly, you give it the right to ‘publically perform, publically display and distribute’ your content.

It’s a similar story with Microsoft SkyDrive, governed by terms that allow Microsoft to ‘use’, ‘modify’, ‘adapt’, ‘distribute and ‘display’ your content.

This type of language seems to be putting some people off. In our survey of Which? members last year, two thirds said they had concerns about the privacy and security implications of using cloud storage.

Head in the cloud clauses

OK, so there are certainly some intimidating terms. And taken to their extreme, you could believe you’re signing away the rights for huge corporations to use your private photos or videos in their own marketing campaigns, if they chose to.

But here’s the thing – I don’t believe they would. The likelihood of this happening is as close to zero as can be. So what do these terms mean?

The right to perform or distribute your content is required for Google to show your videos on YouTube when you choose to share them, for example. It’s not looking to put them in its adverts.

Modifying or using your content could include creating thumbnails of your picture files so they can be neatly stored in your cloud drive. They’re not looking to dip into your pics and start photoshopping a moustache onto your face.

Improving cloud clarity

I love cloud storage for the security it gives me over my important files. But I do understand how this sense of security could be eroded for a lot of people by opaquely-worded T&Cs. In fact, in another of our surveys, almost 90% of respondents said they felt there was too much legal jargon in online T&Cs.

At Which? we think T&Cs should always be presented in a consumer-friendly manner, and that companies should use plain English and clear examples to help their customers understand potentially complex privacy issues.

Ultimately, this works in favour of both consumers and the companies themselves. With worrying terms cleared up, customers will feel more comfortable backing up their private files, photos and documents to online.

Em says:
11 July 2013

Granted these T&Cs should be a lot clearer, but it is all a bit academic. If you are not paying for a service or suffer any other “detriment”, you don’t normally have any legal rights you can enforce, as there is no contract between the parties.

Looking at the Which? article on cloud storage itself, you don’t seem to have made it clear that these services are almost unworkable unless you have cable or fibre broadband. An ADSL 2 modem has an upstream speed of 440 kbps. Backing up 2GB of storage is going to take over 30 hours. And if your ISP has a monthly cap, you could end up paying dearly for your “free” storage.


Leaving aside the total lack of trust in any government, but especially the government of the USA, how much data does RP back up?

I just checked, and my user area on a shared Windows Vista PC is over 45 GB.

Leaving aside the time taken to back up this area, and the time to restore (possibly quicker to fly to the data centre) where would I get 45 GB of free storage?
Google offers 15 GB free then you have to pay.

Please note that this is my user area for one Operating System on one PC.
I have several PCs with several OS.
My largest drive is 3 TB.
My drives average between 500 GB and 1 TB.

Given that the size of hard drives on new PCs today tends to be around 500 GB and the best ‘bangs per buck’ are around 3 TB a cloud backup of all your precious data is not feasible.

Enterprises transferring their data to the cloud don’t do it over the network. They take their hard drive to the data centre. There just isn’t the network bandwidth available to run a full backup/restore over the Internet.

So – if you are an unsophisticated user who creates little data apart from the occasional holiday snap (no home movies, mind) and a letter or two then it is feasible to keep a copy in the cloud.

For any serious user with a large digital music collection and a stock of several years digital photographs, some HD home movies, some digital copies of DVDs……

…buy yourself an external drive or two and do it properly.

Not a very well researched or presented topic IMHO.


Cloud storage is great for providing easy access to files from any computer or mobile device. There are other perfectly satisfactory ways of backing up files and storing sensitive information.

Microsoft and Google would be about my last choices for anything important.


” Cloud storage should be all about peace of mind.”

I find it amazing that in a discussion of cloud storage no mention is made by Rich Parris of the ability of the US services to look at all personal data and transactions of EU citizens. Is it Which? policy to ignore mentioning things that may be of interest to some of its readers? Perhaps suggesting alternative EU owned and domiciled companies that can protect customers data might be useful.

I realise Which? itself uses Google so perhaps that is why the subject is skated over as perhaps members would prefer a non-US based service.

It is not my intention to be a terrorist or fall foul of the intelligence services however I cannot vouch for the hundreds of people I have exchanged e-mails with over the last few years. Guilt by connection is remarkably easy for a computer to decide. I suspect incidentally I am on some list already as I use Google for a number of daily searches – about 20 – and yet it cannot or will not do a daily search on sub-stations. I am interested in electrical transmission for investment reasons though I suspect that believing I am planning to destroy the systems will be the knee-jerk connector.

Mr. Parris does Which? have a policy on mentioning security considerations ? And secondly though you say:
“OK, so there are certainly some intimidating terms. And taken to their extreme, you could believe you’re signing away the rights for huge corporations to use your private photos or videos in their own marketing campaigns, if they chose to. But here’s the thing – I don’t believe they would. The likelihood of this happening is as close to zero as can be.”

I hate to be picky but as someone who has been involved in legal matters what I believe is not relevant to what is legally allowable. I suppose I could run it past Which? Legal Services but I think they would agree with me that it is what is written that will be upheld.

So here’s the thing – I don’t believe US corporations are necessarily nice entities.

Simon Ayling says:
12 July 2013

Curious which EU domiciles you think are better, and are not being ‘looked at’ through their own nation’s intelligence services or even peeked at under PRISM…

Phil says:
13 July 2013

It’s the EU’s Data Retention Directive which requires providers to keep records of your internet usage, phone calls etc for possible future reference by the police and security services. Using EU domiciled companies, which might still be using servers in the far wast, is no guarantee of greater security.


Simon – I would rather my data was read by EU bodies than US agencies as the EU and various governments , particularly the German, are a bit more on the q.v. about misuse. You may bear in mind the fact that the FBI in their claims of stopping terrorism are the active agent in almost 90% of their “successes”.

So essentially they trawl records for likely targets and then set them up for a fall. Its not too difficult in some parts of the Web to find the gullible, the poor , and the misguided. So count me as a EUphile given the alternatives.

For some insight:

Tekytone says:
12 July 2013

I use Google and Dropbox for storage and I really don’t mind who reads it. I accept that they could alter my files and use my photos, but probably wouldn’t. But what I really want to know is: do they guarantee not to lose them. My files are important to me so, if I lose my hard drive, I want to be sure that I can retrieve them from “the cloud”.