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Google Drive under scrutiny

Google's new cloud storage service has come under scrutiny for its fairly broad terms and conditions.

The release of the long-awaited cloud storage service from Google, Google Drive, has been met with a flurry of concern over the implications of the service for enterprise and potential data ownership issues.

Google Drive went live last week Tuesday, offering Google users 5GB free storage space and deep integration of existing Google services – potentially giving the service an edge on competitors.

Principal analyst at Ovum, Richard Edwards, says the service will inevitably be used in the enterprise and may present some problems for CIOs.

“Chances are employees will start using this service to do more than share family photos and recipes,” says Edwards. “Corporate e-mail systems are notorious for their measly storage quotas and message attachment size limitations, and so the sharing and distribution of large corporate files, such as PowerPoint presentations, engineering drawings, and creative content, are an obvious use case for Google Drive.”

Edwards says the unsanctioned use of cloud storage services presents a “real headache” for corporate governance, risk and compliance managers. While some organisations already block access to file sharing services, Edwards says the inevitability of the use of such services warrants further investigation.

Ovum advises enterprises to consider the use of business-grade cloud drive and collaboration solutions, such as Box and Huddle.

“These services deliver user-friendly, device-agnostic, content-sharing features similar to Google Drive, Dropbox, and Microsoft SkyDrive, but they also feature management and administration capabilities that Ovum deems essential from a compliance and audit perspective,” says Edwards.

Unnecessary panic

Last week, a number of reports zeroed in on Google Drive's terms and conditions, with some going so far as to state that the new service essentially takes ownership of all data stored in Google Drive since the terms do not provide a definitive boundary for what Google can and cannot do.

Web and digital media lawyer, Paul Jacobson, looked into the issue for a recent post on web.tech.law, and says such an interpretation of the terms and conditions is actually incorrect and misleading.

Jacobson says: “The licence Google users grant to Google is notionally for the 'limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our services, and to develop new ones' but it is somewhat open ended in that Google could develop new services or modify existing ones that require your data to be used in ways you couldn't have anticipated when signing up. This is fairly similar to Microsoft's services agreement which also uses one licence for all its services.”

Jacobson says the fact that Google's licence is fairly broad is understandable given the wide range of services it offers. “Google doesn't claim ownership of its users' data,” reiterates Jacobson.

“At the same time, there is scope for the already broad licence to be applied in ways users may not have considered. The specific permissions users grant to Google are substantially the same as those users grant to Microsoft (Google is more specific and lists more individual permissions but they are not fundamentally different).”

Modern terms

Jacobson notes that there is a big difference between Dropbox's terms on the one hand, and Google and Microsoft's on the other. “Dropbox offers a fairly specific set of services so users have more certainty as to what they are licensing Dropbox to do with their data,” explains Jacobson.

“Google and Microsoft offer a range of interconnected services governed by a single legal framework and the potential scope for their licences is far broader when you consider that their users may be using a variety of Google and Microsoft services with different functionality.”

Jacobson says the controversy over Facebook's terms back in 2007 did a lot to create more awareness of users' expectations and what it means to be a better licensor.

“The current generation of terms and conditions reflect that, for the most part,” says Jacobson. “These modern licences are clearer, limited in varying degrees but are often necessarily broad to enable these services to function effectively.”


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