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Reading Fine Print for Google Drive Raises Privacy Issue

Reading Fine Print for Google Drive Raises Privacy Issue
By Barry Levine

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Google has issued a statement that "what belongs to you stays yours" on Google Drive. Google added that "you own your files and control their sharing, plain and simple," while the Google Drive Terms of Service enables the company "to give you the services you want -- so if you decide to share a document with someone...you can."
 

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It's the end of the week when Google Drive was unveiled, and potential users have now had a chance to look at the software giant's Terms of Service. The result: questions about privacy for a company that has had more than its share of privacy issues.

According to the TOS, Google retains 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" anything that is uploaded to Google Drive.

User Retains Rights

That language, added to other concerns about public clouds and Google in particular, is raising questions about why Google should have such rights with your uploaded content. The TOS does note that the user retains the rights of "ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in the content."

To make certain that the TOS is clear, Google has issued a statement that "what belongs to you stays yours." It added that "you own your files and control their sharing, plain and simple," while the TOS enables the company "to give you the services you want -- so if you decide to share a document with someone, or open it on a different device, you can."

Some observers contend that the terms, which echo the ones on Google+ and on other competing services, are benign, and enable the company to share content and otherwise use the content within the services it provides.

In a posting on his company's CounterMeasures blog, cloud security firm Trend Micro's Rik Ferguson pointed out on Thursday that the Terms restrict Google's rights to "the limited purpose of operating, promoting and improving our Services, and to develop new ones," and that the license "continues even if you stop using our Services."

'Result of Over-Zealous Lawyers'

Ferguson said he finds the Google policy to be "troubling," but added that he assumed this language is "just the result of over-zealous lawyers attempting to head any potential future lawsuit off at the proverbial pass rather than an outright attempt to go against their informal motto, 'Don't be evil.' "

Concern has also been raised, by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others, as to why one's content should be available for "promoting." Some observers have suggested that content that is set to be viewable by the public could, theoretically, be used in the company's promotion.

Google's privacy policies for its various products and services were streamlined into one on March 1, which, the company said, eliminated dozens of different policies.

When the streamlined declaration was announced in January, the company's Alma Whitten, Director of Privacy, Product and Engineering, noted on the Google Official Blog that the new Privacy Policy "makes clear that, if you're signed in, we may combine information you've provided from one service with information from other services," in order to treat users the same across services.

Beyond parsing Google's legalese, there remain questions about whether consumers or businesses should trust confidential documents to be stored in a public cloud, regardless of the TOS. In such an environment, there are not only potential security threats, but the dim -- although present -- possibility that one's content might have to be turned over to a government or alleged owner because of a court order, such as happened with the raid on Megaupload.
 

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Posted: 2012-04-27 @ 6:36pm PT
Google now reads our emails and tailors ads accordingly. This is getting scary.



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