/ Technology

Would you trust Google’s cloud with your personal files?

Using cloud storage to backup and remotely access your files is starting to take off. But as Google releases its own cloud, Google Drive, are there any privacy or security risks with storing our files in the cloud?

Also, is our legal ownership of material compromised when we entrust our files into the hands of cloud storage?

For many of us, cloud storage brings a welcome end to the hassle of emailing ourselves a document, or fumbling around trying to find our USB stick just to continue our work at home. With these services, we can save the file into the cloud and access it seamlessly from other devices around the world.

But the recent launch of Google Drive has provoked some to question the wider implications of using these services.

Google Drive’s terms of service

Google Drive is a new cloud storage service offered by the tech giant to rival the likes of Dropbox, Microsoft’s Skydrive and Apple’s iCloud. As such, it’s governed by Google’s new all-purpose privacy policy and terms of service that the company rolled-out in March.

On page two of Google’s terms of service, under the subheading ‘Your Content in our Services’, is the clause that’s been getting some hot under the collar with regards to Drive:

‘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.’

So what does this mean? If we upload something to Google Drive do we concede control of it automatically, and grant Google the licence to ‘publish’, ‘distribute’ and – shudder the thought – ‘publicly perform’ the contents at their will?

Probably not. For one thing, this clause is bookmarked by two others which pour cold water on the controversy somewhat:

‘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.’

And also:

‘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.’

These are the same terms that govern all of Google’s products, and in all likelihood are precautionary measures to legally protect Google across its myriad different offerings.

Keeping your confidential files in the cloud

Still, even though Google doesn’t claim ownership of your content, it’s fair to say that the terms are pretty confusing.

Other cloud storage providers are rather more forceful in their attempts to reassure customers of the safety of their information in the cloud. Dropbox, for example, offers the claim that ‘we won’t share your content with others, including law enforcement, for any purpose unless you direct us to’.

I think the debate does raise interesting questions about cloud storage in general. Companies boast about their security, but would you upload something truly confidential to the cloud? Are Google’s T&Cs confusing enough to put you off its new cloud storage service?

Andina says:
28 September 2012

people there are not a lot of ways one can define the above. As a lawyer I can confirm that the above terms of business clearly indicate that even if you retain ownership nevertheless you waive any rights of confidentiality over the content uploaded. Which means in lay terms, google has a right to disclose to third parties including itself all content even if they are your competitors but your ownership remains undisputed!!!

I installed Drive Googal on my wife’s PC when Which? told us about it a few days ago. She runs a U3A group that researches places of more and less interest within 30 miles. I always take my camera and I’ve been in the habit of emailing the good shots to all our members. Someone recently suggested that it would be a good idea if I put all the pictures (going back over the last 4 years) on a cloud.
I copied all the pictures taken in 2012 into a folder and committed it to Drive Googal.

I found that it is B—-y Useless for our purposes because it doesn’t display the pictures as thumbnails.

None of the pictures contain anything our members would object to and few are so good that they might have commercial value so if anyone out there knows a cloud that is free and displays thumbnails (but not Picassa or Panoramico) it would solve my problem. Thanks.

Briggin says:
2 October 2014

I recommend that you store all files on an external hard drive that you keep safe at home.

If you want to store things in the cloud as well then go ahead but make sure you encrypt the files.

I have found an excellent piece of software that does this seamlessly for me.

[This comment has been edited – please do not reference to any content or product that can make the comment appear promotional. Thanks, mods]