Google Drive vs Dropbox | Battle of Privacy in the Cloud?

Google Drive vs Dropbox | Battle of Privacy in the Cloud?
I don’t generally trust free Internet services. While I use things like Google services and a lot of social media, I always plan for those services to change or be gone. Online storage services like Dropbox, iCloud, and even YouSendIt bring the whole privacy issue to a new level as you are not just consciously posting items that your friends or the public may see but you are posting actual files. These files could be personal. They could be client files for your business. Do you know what your privacy rights are under these services? Google Drive came out today and you might be surprised what the terms of use are.

In interest of full disclosure, I’ve been a paying customer of Dropbox for about a year and have always liked their service. Just like anyone, though, I’m always looking for a better deal. Looking at Google Drive I was really interested as I would be able to get 4 times the storage for the same $10 a month. Doing my normal terms of use check I was a little bit surprised at the vague liberties that Google takes with your data. Here is what they say about your files and what they can do:

“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.” – Source: 

Of course, the biggest problem I have with this is how vague and liberal their use statement is in that it seems you basically grant a full license to anything that is uploaded to just about any Google service, including Google Drive. This includes reproduction, creation of derivative works, and publication and per these terms, they do not have to notify you at all. Now I understand that a lot of these licenses is to cover basic functionality of things like duplicating files in Google Docs or on Google Drive. The issue to me is that it isn’t limited to just the functionality of the services and they specifically call out promotion as an acceptable use.

After looking at the Google terms of use I decided to head over to Dropbox for a refresher on their policy.

“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. 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.” –

Do you see the difference between the two? Google has you grant the rights to almost full license without limit whereas Dropbox states that you do not grant any rights outside of what is necessary to operate the services. To me, this distinction is very important when it comes to privacy as this new world of cloud computing and hosting continues to grow and develop. When I place files onto a service that is not my own hosting and I am paying for said service, I would expect that all rights and usage for all files placed there are left with me and that the service wouldn’t have the ability to use them for anything without my expressed written permission.

So what do you think? Do the usage rights to your files change what cloud storage services you use? Have you ever looked to see what kind of usage rights you are granting?

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  1. Sarah Ellender

    April 25, 2012 at 7:38 am

    This has absolutely decided me against using Google drive. I belong to a writers’ group, and a lot of us currently use Dropbox to back up our work. I was looking at Google Drive because it offers more space, but Google’s terms sound perilously close to granting worldwide publication rights to me.

    Many of the writers in the group have agents and/or published novels and/or book deals. No way would they want to sign up to something that is allowed to create derivative works, publish, publicly display or perform their material.

    I would think this would apply to anybody who wants to hang on to their copyright or IP.

    • Brad

      April 25, 2012 at 7:55 am

      Thanks for the comment, Sarah. You’re absolutely right. I’m not suggesting that Google would run put and publish your book, but with how vague and liberal the terms are currently written, they could use parts of the file or show the file name, which could be your book title, in a promotion without notification or compensation and that’s a deal breaker to me. Thanks again for the comment!

  2. Don Greenfield

    April 25, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    Thank you! I have been reviewing cloud storage for some time and have not found one that I want to commit to. In the process of researching alternatives I have noticed three things that consistently leave me cold. One, the terms of service are a users nightmare. Most of them are so long that I have to take a coffee break halfway through. Most of the offers are sleazy in that they try to lure the customer in with some type of FREE OFFER and you have to dig deep to find out what you are going to pay after the free offer ends. The TERMINATION of SERVICE Clauses generally say if you miss a payment, they have the right to erase your data!
    Most of the time I click “I AGREE” terms of service without looking at all of the legal mumbo – gumbo but with storage I so glad that I read first rather than later. You have performed a GREAT service for your readers!

    • Brad

      April 25, 2012 at 2:17 pm

      Appreciate the comment, Don. You are right in that most of the time these terms of service are practically legal novels which is why Google simplified theirs down from over 60 to just one simple model. I just think they missed it a bit as it would be really hard to do “one size fits all” for as many services they offer being as different as they are.

  3. Karla Porter

    April 25, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    I have been a long time Google Docs user which I converted to Google Drive & a paid subscriber to Dropbox. It may sound childish and naive of me to say this but seriously who thinks Google is going to go through bazillions of user’s personal/business files so they can use their work? I agree, I prefer the Dropbox TOS – but if a cloud service started pulling crap like that there would be a cyber revolution that would kill them. They are not interested in our docs…..

    • Brad

      April 25, 2012 at 2:20 pm

      You have a valid point, Karla, in that it would be a really bad day at Google if they decided to just randomly pulling files and docs to use for their own purposes. I tend to be a little more paranoid when it comes to privacy and security on the web so for me it is much more an issue with the principle. Literally just changing the one line to remove the right in being able to use the content to promote and they are just about even with Dropbox’s terms of service and I’d be happy to use Google Drive as a paying customer.

  4. Sarah Ellender

    April 25, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Maybe I am being a bit paranoid. It’s not that I believe that Google’s got an army of slush pile readers out to steal our work. I just wonder where clauses like this leave you when you come to negotiate publication rights with agents and/or publishers. Does it mean that Google have taken first rights worldwide?

    And in the highly unlikely event that some of your work did get published or displayed by Google for whatever reason, and you’d agreed to these terms, would you have any legal comeback?

    • Brad

      April 25, 2012 at 7:28 pm

      All great points, Sarah. Thanks for bringing a view of this from publishing!

  5. Jason Hanley

    April 26, 2012 at 8:08 am

    I really think all of this terms of service talk is splitting hairs.

    The two agreements are basically saying the same thing, with slightly different wording.

    They’re going to do what they want, and it’s up to us to keep them accountable.

  6. […] are concerns about a Google product and privacy. Imagine! Share this:TwitterFacebookStumbleUponDiggLinkedInRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  7. Hugh

    May 21, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    So, now that Google Docs is becoming google Drive, does this constitute a change in google docs?

  8. […] And privacy policy is worth mentioning as well. Check out what what Brad Lowry found when he compared the policies for Dropbox and Google Drive. […]