Google Drive files could end up in ads, even though you still own them





The combination of Google’s new storage service, Google Drive, and the company’s recently unified terms of service and privacy policy, have riled the Internet into demanding to know why Google seemed to be claiming ownership of their customers’ files.

As it turns out, the company claims no ownership — it says so right in the terms of service. And a comparison between Google Drive’s terms and that of other storage services turns up few material differences, except for a couple of questionable terms that may land your content in Google’s promotional materials.

In a comparison piece, The Verge noted that the terms of service from four major cloud storage services — Dropbox, iCloud, Microsoft SkyDrive, and Google Drive — all claim no ownership of the files you give them.

Several publishing outfits raised the alarm about a clause in Google’s terms of service that states Google reserves the right to “use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute” content uploaded to their services.

But as The Verge pointed out, other services have similarly expansive, and sometimes more expansive, terms, and those services mean only to use them in service of, well, the services.

When we spoke to the Electronic Frontier Foundation about Google Drive’s terms of service, the EFF found little about them that was more suspicious than in any other similar cloud service. But Rebecca Jeschke, EFF’s media relations director and digital rights analyst, paused over one phrase: “The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.”


Google’s unified privacy policy states that it won’t use your material to do anything other than “provide, maintain, protect and improve [its services], [and] to develop new ones,” and will ask for consent before lending your material to any other uses.

But if a file is set as publicly available, that is considered consent for use to promote Google’s services. If a user uploads a photo and sets it as publicly viewable, that picture could end up in an ad for Google.

The good news here is that Google isn’t going to be strewing your personal files all over the Internet as banner ads, as the terms of service alone might suggest, provided the files have some privacy settings, as they do by default — viewable only to friends, for instance.

But a public file on any of Google’s services could, in theory, end up in promotional materials. It makes some sense that public content could be used by others, but it’s easy to forget how public “Public” on an Internet service is. It gives us flashbacks to the family photo posted on a blog that wound up in a Czech ad.

Jeschke went on to point out that users should be more concerned with who Google might be forced to give their files to, than what Google itself might do with their files.

“In light of Megaupload, it’s possible that users are worried about the wrong thing,” she said.

Files stored in the cloud can still be easily lost or subpoenaed without the users’ knowledge, Jeschke noted, an issue that’s often overlooked.

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