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
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.’
‘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?