What you need to know about storing your content on Google Drive, Dropbox

You own your digital content stored in a cloud service but possibly not all the rights to it. Be aware of what's involved.

Before you choose to store your content in the cloud, you might want to peruse the terms of the service agreement you're forced to rubber stamp, as painful as that might be.

What you might learn from a casual reading of such agreements could be very enlightening. Take this comparison of the service terms for Google Drive and Dropbox.

Both cloud storage providers emphatically state that any content you store with them belongs to you. No doubt both services have learned to say that from the past ownership tribulations of rival Facebook

Google Drive

"Some of our Services allow you to submit content," Google's service agreement explains. "You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours."

While you own content uploaded to Google Drive, the act of storing it with Google has some strings attached. "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..., communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content," Google's agreement states.

That license, though, is limited, according to Google. Any rights to use your stuff that you grant Google will only be used for "operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones," the agreement explains.

Google also claims the right to keep using your stuff even after you stop using its services (an example would be for a business listing you added to Google Maps).

Dropbox

Dropbox, too, emphasizes that you own your content. "You retain full ownership to your stuff," its terms-of-service agreement declares. "We don't claim any ownership to any of it."

The agreement also provides that its 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...." While that may sound less intrusive than Google's agreement, it still means Dropbox is claiming some rights.

Dropbox, though, doesn't make any claims to your content after you stop doing business with it.

Another provision in the Dropbox agreement notes that "aside from the rare exceptions we identify in our Privacy Policy, no matter how the Services change, we won't share your content with others, including law enforcement, for any purpose unless you direct us to."

Among the exceptions in Dropbox's Privacy Policy are details of how Dropbox will comply with law enforcement requests to peek at your stuff. It will make such disclosures to:

  • comply with a law, regulation, or compulsory legal request;
  • protect the safety of any person from death or serious bodily injury;
  • prevent fraud or abuse of Dropbox or its users; or
  • to protect Dropbox's property rights

When files are turned over to a law enforcement agency, the privacy policy explains, Dropbox will remove its decryption from them. If you encrypt your files before you upload them to Dropbox, then the law enforcement agency would have to ask you to decrypt them.

Storing some of your digital treasures in the cloud can be convenient and give you a sense of security. You just have to remember that you lose a measure of control over your content when you put it there--even if your storage provider cedes total ownership of it to you.

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

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John P. Mello Jr.

PC World (US online)
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