Cloud storage, the truth about data ownership.

Posted: Friday, 17 July 2015 @ 14:44

Earlier last month, Google Drive launched, offering Google customers cheap cloud storage to use, starting with a typically Google 5GB free offering.

With up to 16TB offered, assuming you wish to spend the monthly bill of $800, there are likely many uses for such central storage.  However the release of this product has once again brought the issue of privacy back to the forefront.

It's not that Google's privacy policies are worse or better than competing services, in general the policies for the service providers are similar.  The main concern for domestic and business users is that their data whoever is used.  So users may be surpised to hear that thanks for the efforts of entertainment industry bills such as the CISPA it may not be safe to use these services at all.

None of these services guarantee the protection of any files you upload and there are no promises that these services won't freely share your files and information with other parties.  Here are over 800 companies currently partnered with/supporting the CISPA.

When you sign up to use Google Drive, you agree to the following part of their terms and conditions. “When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide licence 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.”

This clause even led to the New York times warning it's writers not to use Google Drive until the terms of service were more clearly understood.

That very license continues even if you choose to stop using their services, what is just as surpising is most people have developed a reflex to automatically find the "I agree" button before they have had a chance to absorb these implications.

As it turns out, the terms of service actually contains language that appears to nullify that risk. "Some of our services allow you to submit content," Google says in its disclosure. "You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours."

The main confusion in the area of what data a service provider owns, is being blurred by the services a company offers.  Dropbox to date has been a company only offering cloud storage, so it is easier to understand what they are licensing to do with your data.  Google and Microsoft have a range of interconnected services governed by a single legal framework.

In a similar issue, the majority of cloud storage services also refuse to guarantee the safety of your data uploaded to their servers, that includes Dropbox, RapidShare, Microsoft SkyDrive, Amazon Cloud Drive etc.  The following is from SkyDrive's terms of service.

"You’re responsible for backing up the data that you store on the service. If your service is suspended or canceled, we may permanently delete your data from our servers. We have no obligation to return data to you after the service is suspended or canceled. If data is stored with an expiration date, we may also delete the data as of that date. Data that is deleted may be irretrievable. 

Cloud Storage is a concept that has been around for a long time, well before it was branded with the buzz word, cloud.  With more mainstream companies such as Google and Microsoft offering their own solution, businesses are becoming more aware of these solutions when considering their long term IT investment and reconsidering their long term strategy.

Although there can be significant benefits of cloud services to a company, the short story is it that is not for everyone.  Companies should carefully look at the terms and conditions of any service that they sign up for, regards ownership of data, rights to the data, safety and SLA's to access the data etc.  This may be the most critical step with any long term decision with a vendor.


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