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Google says it won’t own user data in cloud

By Michael B. Farrell
Globe Staff / April 26, 2012
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Soon after Google Inc. unveiled its new online storage service Tuesday, some technology bloggers and companies raised concerns over what kind of access Google would have to the digital files and photos that the Internet giant will store for users.

Some suggested that the company would even claim ownership of content users upload to the cloud service, called Drive, which competes with similar storage offerings such as Dropbox and Microsoft Corp.’s SkyDrive.

But Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., said Wednesday that it will not own uploaded digital documents, but would electronically scan the files to allow users to access their documents from multiple devices, such as smartphones and tablet computers.

“As our terms of service make clear, ‘what belongs to you stays yours.’ You own your files and control their sharing, plain and simple,’’ a Google spokesman said. “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.’’

But some tech bloggers said Google’s recently-updated terms of service conveyed a different message. In addition to Drive, the policy covers products such as Gmail and Google Plus. Specifically, they pointed to a section that some took to mean that the company was claiming rights to anything stored on Drive.

The passage reads, “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.’’

But the legal language is actually rather benign, according to Corynne McSherry, intellectual property director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco nonprofit that deals with online privacy issues. Such policies allow Google and many other Internet companies and online storage providers to share someone’s stored data with others. They can only do so, however, after being granted permission by the user, according to McSherry

“I don’t think this policy is all that unusual online,’’ she said.

In the end, McSherry said, the criticism and confusion over Drive’s permission policy could actually benefit cloud-service users: more of them might pay attention to terms of service that “quite frankly, many of us [now] never read,’’ she said.

Michael B. Farrell can be reached at michael.farrell@globe.com.

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