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Should You Worry About Google Drive Privacy?

The wording of the terms of service for Google Drive seems to suggest Google owns any content you upload, and has many up in arms.

The wording of the Google Drive terms of service has ruffled some feathers. However, the short answer to the question posed in the title of this article is "no". Allow me to explain.

Google Drive finally unveiled its long-rumored cloud data storage service, Google Drive. The wording of the terms of services claims that 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.

What? Taken literally, that seems to imply that when I store a picture from my kid's birthday party in Google Drive, Google can do whatever it wants to with that file. Why does Google need to reproduce, modify, or distribute a picture from my kid's birthday? Does this mean I've surrendered my data and Google now owns it?

Again, the answer is "no".

All of the confusion about data privacy and ownership with Google Drive ignores the sentence that comes right before that part: "You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours."

I contacted Google for clarification, and a Google spokesperson shared the following statement. "As our Terms of Service make clear, 'what belongs to you stays yours.' 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."

This is the same issue I encountered and addressed last summer during my 30 Days with Google+ series. The Google+ terms of service are worded virtually identically, and raised the same concerns for me.

After speaking with Google about the Google+ terms of service, I arrived at the conclusion that the wording sounds ominous, but is more or less harmless. "Basically, these permissions grant Google the permission it needs to take the content you send to Google and share it with your Circles on Google+, and to be able to comply with legal and technical requirements in sharing that information in different countries around the world."

The situation with Google Drive is the same. The wording isn't there to suggest that Google owns your data and will do with it as it pleases. The wording grants Google the legal rights necessary to act on your behalf in transmitting information and making it available on the Web around the world.

I still agree that the wording is a bit scary. However, it is not different than the wording of the terms of service across the rest of Google, or different from the legalese used by competing cloud storage services, so there really isn't anything to be concerned about.

Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

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