09:24 AM

Google Drive Privacy: 4 Misunderstood Facts

Privacy and security questions have bedeviled the launch of Google's new online file-storage service. Ignore the hype and consider these four key facts.

Oracle v. Google: Tour The Evidence
Oracle v. Google: Tour The Evidence
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When people upload a file to the new Google Drive online file-storage service, who owns the file?

For answers, one might turn to the unified terms of service that cover all Google products: "When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license 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."

In other words, Google appears to reserve the right to do anything it pleases with uploaded data. Or does it?

With such questions now bedeviling Google Drive, here are four privacy--and file-ownership--facts about the new service.

[ Is proposed Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) a threat to your privacy? Read CISPA Bill: 5 Main Privacy Worries. ]

1. Google's All-In-One Privacy Policy Creeps People Out

Google's terms of service--which applies to all of the company's "Services"--seems quite wide-reaching. So, does that mean that Google would actually take people's content and reuse it? "I'm sure that the assertion of perpetual, worldwide rights over their customers' intellectual property and the use cases of promoting, improving, or developing new services based on that content 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 in formal motto, 'Don't be evil,'" said Rik Ferguson, director of security research and communication at Trend Micro, in a blog post.

2. Google Doesn't Own People's Files

With such comments accompanying the launch of Google Drive, the company moved quickly to issue a statement clarifying what its terms of service means. "As our Terms of Service make clear, 'what belongs to you stays yours,'" according to the statement. "You own your files and control their sharing, plain and simple. Our Terms of Service enable us 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."

3. Competing Services Offer Similar Privacy Policies

Services such as Dropbox, Apple's iCloud, and Microsoft's SkyDrive differ in that they only detail the terms of service for a single service, as opposed to Google, which uses a single privacy policy to cover everything from Gmail, Google+, Google Docs, and in the future, even the merger between Google Drive and Chrome OS.

But in a close reading of Google Drive competitors' privacy policies, The Verge found that they essentially reserve the same types of rights for themselves--only "they just use slightly more artful language to communicate them." Or as the Microsoft SkyDrive terms of service put it: "Your content remains your content."

4. Files Hosted In Cloud Face Certain Security Risks

Are fears over what Google might do with people's Drive files overblown? From a privacy standpoint, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's media relations director and digital rights analyst, Rebecca Jeschke, told Ars Technica that many users of cloud-based file storage and sharing services would do well to remember past cyberlocker takedowns. "In light of Megaupload, it's possible that users are worried about the wrong thing," she said. Notably, uploaded files might get lost, stolen, exposed, made irretrievable, or even obtained directly from the service provider with a court order, perhaps without the owner's knowledge.

In other words, would-be users of online file storage services should weigh more than just Google's privacy policy before trusting their files to the cloud. And in the words of the Microsoft SkyDrive terms of service: "If you don't agree, don't use the service. Thanks."

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User Rank: Apprentice
4/28/2012 | 2:15:38 PM
re: Google Drive Privacy: 4 Misunderstood Facts
Privacy policies are very simple. If you do not want it shared, comprimised, stolen, or published for your (spouse, boss, future boss, hacker, etc.) to see, then don't put it out there. While you must agree to the terms of service to use, no one is forcing you to put embarassing, personal or financial information you do not want comprimised on a public server. Don't put a quart of milk on the front porch in the summer and try to sue the dairy when it sours. If you need access to those type of files, leave your computer on and use a service like laplink to create an encrypted connection to your data.
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