Wednesday, 25 April 2012

How does Google Drive controversy?

Having been a fan of Google's products for many years, with Gmail, Google Docs, Google Maps, Google Desktop (RIP), Android, Picasa, Google Scholar, Chrome, Google Books and Google Translate figuring prominently in my private use of technology (oh - and I use Blogger too) - not to mention the work use of Google Analytics and Google Adwords - I was looking forward to the long-awaited Google Drive - an online storage facility for all and any files so that I don't need to remember a USB stick or have my laptop to ensure I can get to any file anywhere.  I already pay around $5 a year to increase my storage on Gmail/Picasa etc. to 20GB.  Very reasonable I think....although I've noticed that this deal no longer exists and the nearest other option is to pay $2.49 per month (just under $30 per year) for 25GB.  I'm not happy about this...but it's not a huge burden on finances.

When I got an iPad from work, I discovered the joys of Dropbox and having all my documents sync'd on the work laptop, the home desktop and the iPad... but being very price-sensitive, chose the basic version (i.e. free) with a 2GB storage limit.  It forces one to clear out documents and folders every so often rather than continuing to accumulate files that will never be read again - which is no bad thing.

So with the launch of Google Drive announced yesterday I immediately thought that as soon as there is functionality built-in to the various iPad apps that currently link to Dropbox, I'll be able to switch to G-Drive.

But then, of course, the controversy starts with some people trying to show that Google is now 'evil' (in contrast to their motto 'Don't be evil') by combing their Ts&Cs, adding 2 and 2 together and getting 3.14159.   ZDNet, a site that is usually a reliable source of tech news, has an article entitled "How far does Google Drive's terms go in 'owning' your files?" by Zach Whittaker.  Zach tries to highlight a difference in the Ts&Cs for Google Drive which say:

Your Content in our Services: 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.

What was missing from the article is the same line in the Ts&Cs that both Dropbox and Microsoft have, which says:
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.
And of course the post is riddled with comments explaining the 'what's yours is yours' part with others saying that Google is the anti-christ, should be burnt on the circuit-boards of public opinion and wondering what Google would do with their data?

So, with no other information available other than my own common sense, I imagine that what Google wants to do is have the right to crawl our files to identify trends and gather data. They won't be 'reading' our files, but if they can identify x% of G-Drive users have Britney Spears photos, or y% have a last will and testament, that might be of use to the wider public.

There is another use, however. Google Translate works not by translating every word in turn like a first-year language student with a well-thumbed dictionary, but by comparing phrases and finding the same phrase on the internet with a translated version and making an assumption that the translated phrase will hopefully work as a translation for the new text also.  Surely, therefore, if Google suddenly has access to more data with which to mine such translations, the better?  Surely the ability to see how documents are written (by people who probably do not have a blog or a website) will help formulate semantic language generators for artificial intelligence?

In the same way that you should not leave sensitive data on a laptop, iPad or mobile phone without having a password block on the machine and encrypting the actual document (how many laptops, iPads and mobile phones are stolen every day, compared to successful hacks of online document repositories?) one should be careful about encrypting documents before storing them online.

But there is a big difference between actively reading my emails, documents and data, and allowing computer code to analyse it.  If it were not for Google's 'bots' identifying key terms in my emails, they would not be able to offer me a great email product for free subsidised by ads that I was able to quickly blank from my vision.  If it were not for my house being on Google View, I would not also be able to use the service to see other places that help me when driving or walking to an appointment.

Google hasn't sold its corporate soul to the devil.  I personally don't think they have abandoned the ethos of 'Don't be evil'.  But corporations, as with all organisations, are just like people.  And as Joe E Brown (right) said at the end of Some Like It Hot:  "Nobody's perfect!"


  1. Being an all out Google user, I agree to some extent. However, as a thought experiment, would you think differently of this 'friendly' way of using our data, had Google Drive been owned by the government, rather than a private company? Would you still trust and endorse this way of using personal data to enhance their services?

    1. To a certain extent they already do. That's what the census is - finding out who lives where and what their personal needs are (for health, social services, education, refuse, sewage, policing etc.) to then redistribute our taxes accordingly.
      There is a point at which we must make a decision to be online or not. If we are truly concerned with privacy, we could use Tor and hide our IP and browsing behaviour from even our ISP. We should, of course, not sign in to online services (such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Blogger) and we should not use email as they can be tracked by the email provider.
      And then we could not purchase anything online as they would know our address (for deliveries) and, more importantly, our payment details - our credit cards etc. But of course, the banks know those already, as do all companies we deal with.
      So if we want to ensure complete privacy, we must operate on a cash-only basis, never do anything online except browse with a system like Tor, and never join our local library, video-rental club, supermarket loyalty scheme or use our Oyster cards...
      So the line I decided to draw was to engage completely online...but be aware of what I was doing when. I have TOR installed and, particularly on the laptop, will use it in certain circumstances...but not because of Google or the government... just out of natural paranoia about my fellow man...

  2. Miguel Angel Rojas30 April 2012 at 13:38

    Great Post! I personally believe the same as you, I don´t think Google is becoming evil, they´re doing a great job, and for that, the more data they have the better. I think that some blogs and tech magazines just try to create controversy... The same happened with the change in terms and conditions of Google when integrating services, even if it´s something that is common sense, if I have many different services with them, why not integrating them?

  3. Thank you Miguel're right... too much controversy, not enough conversation...