Apr 262012
beware of the legal terms in cloud computing services

Whenever I do a presentation on cloud computing and social media for business, I focus on one important area – The Terms Of Service.

Google’s relaunch of their Cloud Drive product has reminded us of the risks that hide in these terms, particularly with the one clause;

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 we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps). Some Services may offer you ways to access and remove content that has been provided to that Service. Also, in some of our Services, there are terms or settings that narrow the scope of our use of the content submitted in those Services. Make sure you have the necessary rights to grant us this license for any content that you submit to our Services.

This is an almost identical clause to that introduced – and quickly dropped by file sharing Dropbox – last year. It’s also pretty well standard in the social media services including Facebook.

Basically it means that while you retain ownership of anything you post to Google Drive, or most of other Google’s services including Google Docs you’re giving the corporation the rights to use the data in any way they choose.

While the offending clause does go onto say this term is “for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones” there is no definition of what operating, promoting or improving their services actually means.

Not that it matters anyway, as one of the later terms says they reserve the right to change any clause at any time they choose. So if Google decided that selling your client spreadsheets to the highest bidder will improve the service for their shareholders, then so be it.

If you’re a photographer then the pictures you upload to Facebook or Google+ now are licensed to these organisations as are all the documents stored on Cloud Drive.

To be fair this is not just a Google issue, Facebook has similar terms as do many others. Surprisingly just as many premium, paid for services have these conditions as free ones.

Because these Terms Of Service are about establishing a power relationship, there’s usually an over-reach by large companies with these terms.

While an over-reach is understandable, its not healthy where the customer has to trust that the big corporation will do the right thing.

Right now, if you’re using a cloud or social media service for important business information you may want to check that service doesn’t have terms that grant them a license to your intellectual property.

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