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Apr 27

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Cloud Storage Terms of Service Compared

Google’s recent announcement that they were beginning their own Cloud Storage service called Google Drive triggered a storm of warnings from privacy advocates regarding the rights that Google was asserting for itself.  The worry was that by simply storing the file on Google Cloud, authors would be turning over full intellectual property rights to Google.  The storm of concern puzzled others, who noted that the Terms of Service for Google Cloud were exactly the same as those for all of Google’s services such as Gmail, YouTube, and others.  They also noted that other cloud storage sites had terms that were much the same.

To address the controversy, I have pulled the appropriate sections from Google’s standard Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, along with those of three other cloud storage providers.  I picked Dropbox, Microsoft SkyDrive, and Apple iCloud, as the most prominent names in this industry.

Google’s terms were mostly the same as the others.  However, Google does have a few extra loopholes.  My overall impression (and concern) is that they all have very weak privacy protections.  None of them are suitable for confidential materials without extra prior actions.

In all cases the bold text emphasis is added.

Ownership of Content

Dropbox

Microsoft SkyDrive

Google Drive

Apple iCloud

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. 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. Some of our Services allow you to submit content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours. Except for material we may license to you, Apple does not claim ownership of the materials and/or Content you submit or make available on the Service
All the services make it very clear that you continue to own whatever content that you upload.  That may be more than slightly motivated by not wanting to be held responsible for your uploaded content.

Rights to Use Content

Dropbox

Microsoft SkyDrive

Google Drive

Apple iCloud

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.We may need your permission to do things you ask us to do with your stuff, for example, hosting your files, or sharing them at your direction. This includes product features visible to you, for example, image thumbnails or document previews. It also includes design choices we make to technically administer our Services, for example, how we redundantly backup data to keep it safe. You give us the permissions we need to do those things solely to provide the Services. This permission also extends to trusted third parties we work with to provide the Services, You understand that Microsoft may need, and you hereby grant Microsoft the right, to use, modify, adapt, reproduce, distribute, and display content posted on the service solely to the extent necessary to provide the service. 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 However, by submitting or posting such Content on areas of the Service that are accessible by the public or other users with whom you consent to share such Content, you grant Apple a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Service solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available,without any compensation or obligation to you.
Apple and Google use terminology borrowed from standard publishing contracts while Dropbox and Microsoft make a smaller list of rights that would seem to be more tailored to the real need of an online service.  For example why does Google need the right to ‘Publicly Perform’ the uploaded works in addition to publicly display them?  While all four documents seem to limit the scope of the rights to those needed for the service, Apple’s wording might be regarded as somewhat more vague because the ‘purpose for which such content was submitted’ might be open to interpretation.  More significantly only Google’s agreement contains provisions not simply for providing the service but also ‘improving’, ‘promoting’ and ‘develop new ones’.  In particular, the develop new services exception is potentially very broad.  Google is also unique in stating that their rights continue even after you stop using the Services.

Disclosure

Dropbox

Microsoft SkyDrive

Google Drive

Apple iCloud

We may disclose to parties outside Dropbox files stored in your Dropbox and information about you that we collect when we have a good faith belief that disclosure is reasonably necessary to (a) comply with a law, regulation or compulsory legal request; (b) protect the safety of any person from death or serious bodily injury; (c) prevent fraud or abuse of Dropbox or its users; or (d) to protect Dropbox’s property rights. If we provide your Dropbox files to a law enforcement agency as set forth above, we will remove Dropbox’s encryption from the files before providing them to law enforcement. However, Dropbox will not be able to decrypt any files that you encrypted prior to storing them on Dropbox. In particular, we may access or disclose information about you, including the content of your communications, in order to: (a) comply with the law or respond to lawful requests or legal process; (b) protect the rights or property of Microsoft or our customers, including the enforcement of our agreements or policies governing your use of the service; or (c) act on a good faith belief that such access or disclosure is necessaryto protect the personal safety of Microsoft employees, customers, or the public. We will share personal information with companies, organizations or individuals outside of Google if we have a good-faith belief that access, use, preservation or disclosure of the information is reasonably necessary to:

  • meet any applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request.
  • enforce applicable Terms of Service, including investigation of potential violations.
  • detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues.
  • protect against harm to the rights, property or safety of Google, our users or the public as required or permitted by law.

 

Apple reserves the right to take steps Apple believes are reasonably necessary or appropriate to enforce and/or verify compliance with any part of this Agreement. You acknowledge and agree that Apple may, without liability to you, access, use, preserve and/or disclose your Account information and Content to law enforcement authorities, government officials, and/or a third party, as Apple believes is reasonably necessary or appropriate, if legally required to do so or if we have a good faith belief that such access, use, disclosure, or preservation is reasonably necessary to: (a) comply with legal process or request; (b) enforce this Agreement, including investigation of any potential violation thereof; (c) detect, prevent or otherwise address security, fraud or technical issues; or (d) protect the rights, property or safety of Apple, its users, a third party, or the public as required or permitted by law.
The text from Dropbox, Skydrive, and Google come from their Privacy Policies.  For iCloud it comes from the Terms of Service. Frankly, anybody should realize that if law enforcement arrives at the cloud storage company with a subpoena or equivalent,  they would get the data just as they would if they arrived at your door with a search warrant.  The difference is that if law enforcement arrives at your door, you know you have a matter to be concerned about.  It they show up at the cloud storage company, you may have no way of knowing that there is anything going on. What is surprising is the weakness of these privacy policy protections.  The Google and Apple agreements allow full disclosure to outside parties to address ‘technical issues’, a term so broad as to potentially cover anything.  None of the agreements require that you personally be suspected of any wrongdoing before disclosing your information to others, only a general enforcement effort is needed.  Only Dropbox does not permit disclosure of your information and content to outside parties simply for the purposes of enforcing the terms of service.

To put it another way:  If the companies decided they had a good faith belief that it was reasonably necessary to look for terms of service violations for copyrighted movies, could they allow the MPAA to scan the contents of every user’s cloud storage?  Whether they would is open to discussion, but only Dropbox’ privacy policy would say that they could not

Dropbox’s privacy statement suggests that they know about the weakness of their privacy policy and hints at what you must do to genuinely have your information be private.  Any data which you have an obligation to keep confidential should be encrypted by yourself with a reasonably secure password prior to being uploaded to cloud storage.  The same should be said for any other services covered under the same or similar terms, such as Gmail.

About the author

Daniel Nolte

Architect, Network Administrator, Computer Forensics Administrator, Voiceovers. website,

Permanent link to this article: http://betweenthenumbers.net/2012/04/cloud-storage-terms-of-service-compared/

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