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Google Drive says it may 'publicly perform' your files. What's that mean?

Google Drive goes live this week. Should users be wary of how their information will be used? Google says no. 

By Matthew Shaer / April 26, 2012

Google Drive is under fire.

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This week, Google introduced a cloud storage system called Drive. Drive works like the popular service Dropbox: A user uploads a bunch of files and then Google hangs onto the files until the user needs them again, whether on that computer or any other. 5GB of storage is free on Google Drive – it's $2.49 a month for 25GB and $4.99 a month for 100GB. But unlike Dropbox, Drive is integrated into the Google ecosystem, so you can jump from Gmail to Google Documents to Google Drive with nary a hiccup. 

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And therein lies the rub. Perhaps, many privacy advocates have argued, it isn't exactly a wise idea to hand over a bunch of data to Google, which could use it for any number of purposes. Monitor readers will remember that concern over Google's stewardship of personal data has skyrocketed since the release of an updated – and streamlined – terms of service, back in March.  

And as Clint Boulton of the Wall Street Journal points out, those concerns aren't exactly far-fetched.

Consider Google's updated Terms of Service, which states that users "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 we make so that your content works better with our services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content." 

Those last few items obviously raise a few red flags – no one wants Google publishing or "publicly performing" their data. But in a statement today, Google downplayed the privacy backlash, saying that the legal language was only intended to make Drive easier to use. "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," Google told the Mercury News

In related news, over at the Verge, Nilay Patel stacks Drive up against three competitors in the cloud storage arena: iCloud, Skydrive, and Dropbox. Patel finds that the language in the Dropbox contract is a little more vague; that Apple can delete "objectionable" material from iCloud; and that Microsoft's Skydrive takes a stronger stance against copyright violation. 

But these are just contracts, Patel continues, and "the most noble promises can easily be broken. It's actions and history that have consequences, and companies that deal with user data on the web need to start building a history of squeaky-clean behavior before any of us can feel totally comfortable living in the cloud." Amen to that.  

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