Cloud services and your docs: Know your rights


(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Last week saw a flurry activity among cloud storage services. Microsoft unveiled a massively improved SkyDrive service just one day before Google unveiled their long-awaited Google Drive. Even Dropbox got in the act by updating their sharing features. While I've already compared a number of aspects of these online storage systems, there's another interesting way to evaluate them. How safe is your data from their respective marketing divisions?

A few days ago, ZD Net highlighted the differences in the terms of use for the three cloud businesses. Here's the bottom line:

Dropbox (Terms of Use)

"Your Stuff & Your Privacy: By using our Services you provide us with information, files, and folders that you submit to Dropbox (together, "your stuff"). You retain full ownership to your stuff. We don't claim any ownership to any of it. These Terms do not grant us any rights to your stuff or intellectual property except for the limited rights that are needed to run the Services, as explained below."

Google Drive (Terms of Use)

"Your Content in our Services: 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. The rights that 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 that you have added to Google Maps)."

Microsoft SkyDrive (Terms of Use)

"Your Content: Except for material that we license to you, we don't claim ownership of the content you provide on the service. Your content remains your content. We also don't control, verify, or endorse the content that you and others make available on the service."

Making Sense of the Terms of Use

Let's be clear: for the most part, nothing nefarious appears to be going on in any of these terms of use. That said, it's clear that Dropbox and Microsoft take a much simpler approach, declaring outright that they won't do anything with your content except in a very narrow and clearly defined way.

Google, on the other hand, says much the same thing but adds extensive caveats. Google reserves the right to make "derivative works" -- and though it gives specific examples of ways that might happen, it clearly imposes no legal limitations.

Moreover, Google also asserts that its rights "continue even if you stop using our Services." That's eerily similar to criticism Facebook encountered when users found their profile information lived on long after they canceled their accounts.

What are your thoughts about the way these TOUs are worded? Will it prevent you from using any of these cloud services for business or personal data, or to prefer one service over another? Sound off in the comments.

Dave Johnson was employed by Microsoft Corporation at the time this article was written.