Google Drive – Storage is Cheap, Privacy Costs Money

The price for cloud storage is dropping. Recently Google cut its prices for Google Drive from USD 4.99 to USD 1.99 for 100GB and from USD 49.99 to USD 9.99 for 1TB, making it even cheaper to store your content in their cloud. But considering the privacy and security implications the real question here is should you?

Background

Cloud storage can simply be described as a hard drive on the Internet. It allows you to save your data online and share files across your devices by allowing access from any device with proper login credentials. It is easy and convenient, but is it safe?

During the annual RSA conference in San Francisco in February 2014 Google and Microsoft agreed ‘Online storage is safe to use.’ The question we need to ask ourselves is: Do we really trust the cloud providers with our personal data? When asked by moderator John Pescatore if Microsoft and Google would be willing to store their sensitive data in the other’s cloud storage service, Bret Arsenauld (MS) and Eran Feigenbaum (Google) carefully avoided answering this rather direct question.

Google’s Terms and Conditions and Privacy Statement

Google’s Terms of Service and Privacy Statement reveal much about the motivation for providing comprehensive services, not just Google Drive, to consumers for little or no money.
“By using our Services, you are agreeing to these terms. Please read them carefully.” Chances are that “reading them carefully” is exactly what you, I and most other people didn’t do. Google et. al. are counting on that and even if you did read them, it may not have been clear what exactly you were agreeing to. To be fair though, at least Google has significantly improved the wording of their policies to make them easier to read and understand. However, when you continue reading you get to the following passage:
“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 we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps). Some Services may offer you ways to access and remove content that has been provided to that Service. Also, in some of our Services, there are terms or settings that narrow the scope of our use of the content submitted in those Services. Make sure you have the necessary rights to grant us this license for any content that you submit to our Services.”
Google grants itself a very generous rights to your content. Fortunately Google has more restrictive terms for Google drive, for example they will not change a private document to a public one, and you can remove your content at will. Obviously Google isn’t the only company using terms like the ones mentioned above, but Dropbox is politer about how they will use your content, their new terms and conditions state (effective March 24th, 2014):
“When you use our Services, you provide us with things like your files, content, email messages, contacts and so on (“Your Stuff”). Your Stuff is yours. These Terms don’t give us any rights to Your Stuff except for the limited rights that enable us to offer the Services.
We need your permission to do things like hosting Your Stuff, backing it up, and sharing it when you ask us to. Our Services also provide you with features like photo thumbnails, document previews, email organization, easy sorting, editing, sharing and searching. These and other features may require our systems to access, store and scan Your Stuff. You give us permission to do those things, and this permission extends to trusted third parties we work with.”
Certainly, there are similarities and some of these rights are required to provide their services to their users, others I am not so sure. For example, unless you opt out, you grant Google the right to use your name and pictures in, what essentially amounts to, uncompensated endorsements in third-party advertising. Another good question is why does Google need the right to use my information after I’m either dead or terminated my business relationship with Google?

Maybe Cloud Storage is Not What Google is Selling?

A look at Google’s business model might provide the answers. Google’s business is all about ad revenue placed around search results and providing contextual information to advertisers and consumers. In the 4th quarter of 2013 advertising and advertising related revenue accounted for about 90% of Google’s revenue, or to put it differently, Google’s search related revenue is derived from content produced by you and me. Whenever you use any of Google’s services or publish anything on the web you add content that Google uses to generate revenue, that is what their terms and conditions are really about.

Another important question to ask is, how to keep your information safe? After all, whenever you are saving anything to the cloud you are relinquishing control over that data to a third party. If the data you are saving to the cloud is not encrypted it is easily accessible to others, first and foremost your cloud provider. A possible data breach could even make your data accessible to other parties with devastating consequences. Encrypting your content BEFORE uploading it is the key to cloud security..

Conclusion

Cloud storage has become dirt cheap and I will venture to guess it will ultimately be free, a trend already observed in other part of the world. The price drop for Google Drive storage reflects this trend, making me wonder why to pay for online storage in the first place.

Sure the convenience of cloud storage is hard to beat, but the catch is that you give up control of your data to a third party that is more or less trustworthy. You can count on Google scanning your files for keywords to provide you with contextual advertising, after all they want to get paid, in other words, you and your stuff are the product.

I suggest you think carefully before jumping on this enticing offer, an issue Gmail users are already well aware of…

Image Credit: Robert Scoble

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