Google clause gives pause

Google Docs and Spreadsheets comes under fire

For a company whose motto is "Do no evil," it's interesting how often Google's customers suspect them of it.

The search engine firm is in damage control mode over a clause in the user agreements for its Google Docs and Spreadsheets applications that implies an inordinate degree of power over the content that runs over its services. The clause reads: "By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through Google services which are intended to be available to the members of the public, you grant Google a worldwide, nonexclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, modify, publish and distribute such content on Google services for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting Google services."

This matters more because it's Google, of course, but the issue may be an important one for other online software companies to watch as they seek to build credibility and support among business customers. Most of the controversy centers around the firm's use of the word "public." If you're posting it on Google Docs or in Google spreadsheets, the implication goes, it's up for grabs if the company needs some sample use cases for its next advertising campaign.

You really have to stretch yourself to think about how this kind of scenario would play itself out. Might Google use various Docs and Spreadsheets customer's data as case study material? Or perhaps reproduce them in the kind of print magazine ads that it never, ever buys (and why would they, when we give the company this kind of constant media attention)? Maybe we should be paying more attention to the word "modify," in the clause, which might give Google the go-ahead to insert references to its services in the actual content ("Here's today's sales report. I finished it using Google Spreadsheets®!")

I can't think of a better way to lose customers. And whatever you think about the firm's market cap or long-term investment value, Google is still a bit player in the applications space. It can't afford to outrage users that way. We should also realize that legal mumbo-jumbo aside, we all take a huge leap of faith when we use online program like these. Google could easily "reproduce, adapt, modify, publish and distribute" whatever it wants. That may be why few are entrusting it with highly sensitive company material. It's not that anything bad has happened, it's that nothing bad has happened yet.

Docs and Speadsheets, and their many other budding online rivals, are allowing unprecedented degrees of collaboration, which is why our notion of "public" may be so confused. This is exacerbated by the fact that we often use the same online tools for both work and personal purposes. Both kinds of content have a "public" and there may even be some overlap between them, but the "public" of the wider world is another matter. In order for Web-based software to flourish, we need to engage in a more prolonged discussion with one another about the boundary lines between users, vendors and everyday Internet surfers. It has to happen before content gets inadvertently (or advertently) misused. It's a discussion we have to make as public as possible.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Shane Schick

ITBusiness.ca
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?