Despite facing much criticism and international scrutiny due to its move to merge and simplify its various service-specific terms into all-inclusive documents earlier this year, Google remained adamant, maintaining just one set of documents for users. But there's a clause in Google's terms of service, based on which the search engine giant seems to be claiming ownership of their customers' files. Below is the section from Google Terms of Service:
Some of our Services allow you to submit content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours. 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.
In a comparison among the four major cloud storage services - Dropbox, iCloud, Microsoft SkyDrive, and Google Drive - Nilay Patel of The Verge stated that not just Google Drive, but all the four services claim no ownership of the files users upload. It said that Google's terms are pretty much the same as anyone else's, and slightly better in some cases.
Based on the aforesaid section from Google Terms of Service, it does look like a great deal of rights to give to Google. But, according to Patel, Google's services would be uncomfortably limited without the permission to use, host, store, modify, communicate, publish, or distribute your content - it couldn't move files around on its servers, cache your data, or make image thumbnails, since those would be unauthorized copies.
When it comes to Dropbox, Patel said that the language of its terms of service is friendlier than Google's, but also more expansive and vaguer. Below is the related portion from Dropbox's terms of service:
By using our Services you provide us with information, files, and folders that you submit to Dropbox (together, your stuff). You retain full ownership to your stuff. We don't claim any ownership to any of it. These 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, as explained below.
We may need your permission to do things you ask us to do with your stuff, for example, hosting your files, or sharing them at your direction... You give us the permissions we need to do those things solely to provide the Services. This permission also extends to trusted third parties we work with to provide the Services, for example Amazon, which provides our storage space (again, only to provide the Services).
According to Patel, while Google clearly lists the rights and permissions it needs to run its services, Dropbox simply says users are giving it the permissions it needs to run its services, without explaining what those permissions really are.
In the case of Microsoft's Skydrive, it also asks for the same rights that Google is asking for, with the same limitations. However, it looks stricter while dealing with copyright infringement, compared to Google. It says that it reserves the right to obliterate content if users violate the terms. Here's the relevant section:
Except for material that we license to you, we don't claim ownership of the content you provide on the service. Your content remains your content. We also don't control, verify, or endorse the content that you and others make available on the service... You understand that Microsoft may need, and you hereby grant Microsoft the right, to use, modify, adapt, reproduce, distribute, and display content posted on the service solely to the extent necessary to provide the service.
Apple's iCloud is different, given that it doesn't offer direct document storage in folders. However, it does stores huge amount of user data in Photo Stream and Documents in the Cloud, and needs permission to manage those.
Except for material we may license to you, Apple does not claim ownership of the materials and/or Content you submit or make available on the Service. However, by submitting or posting such Content on areas of the Service that are accessible by the public or other users with whom you consent to share such Content, you grant Apple a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Service solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available, without any compensation or obligation to you.
... Apple may transmit your Content across various public networks, in various media, and modify or change your Content to comply with technical requirements of connecting networks or devices or computers. You agree that the license herein permits Apple to take any such actions.
Similar to Microsoft, Apple also seems to be strict in terms of copyright infringement. It says that it reserves the right to cease the accounts of repeat infringers and can delete objectionable content at any time.
Thus, as noted by The Verge, all the cloud storage services need permission to copy and distribute users' content to servers around the world.
Google Drive Files More Likely To End Up In Ads
However, another report in Ars Technica suggested that Google Drive files are more likely to end up in ads, with the ownership still in users' hand. Even if Google claims no ownership, there are some dubious terms that may land your content in Google's promotional materials.
The Ars Technica report cited Rebecca Jeschke of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), who had some doubts over one phrase in Google's terms of service - The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. Jeschke paused over promoting.
According to the report, if a file is set as publicly available, that is considered consent for use to promote Google's services. If a user uploads a photo and sets it as publicly viewable, that picture could end up in an ad for Google.
Jeschke stressed that apart from thinking about what Google might do with their files, users should be more concerned about who might be getting their files from Google.