Dropbox Updates Terms (again) to Calm Intellectual Property Fears

Dropbox Updates Terms (again) to Calm Intellectual Property Fears | 40Tech

Dropbox has been upsetting some of its users, recently, with changes to its terms of service that caused concern and outrage regarding privacy of files uploaded to the service. Sure, outrage is easy to come by on the internet, especially with changes to heavily used cloud services, but there were some valid arguments to be made — and people didn’t hesitate to make them. First, there was that whole thing about decrytpting users’ encrypted files and handing them over to authorities when asked. Questions of users’ legal and moral behaviours notwithstanding, the simple fact that Dropbox claimed the right to decrypt what was encrypted was enough to shake up many people.

Most recently, however, Dropbox did something that should have been considered a good thing: they updated their terms to plain language that made them easier to understand. Unfortunately that blew up in their face, as some of the wording gave Dropbox the right to use your files pretty much however they want, intellectual property notwithstanding. The latest update to the Dropbox terms of service is aimed at quelling those fears.

Last week’s Dropbox update in terms stated the following:

you grant us (and those we work with to provide the Services) worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display that stuff to the extent reasonably necessary for the Service.

This was followed by:

This license is solely to enable us to technically administer, display, and operate the Services.

That last sentence was meant to apply the new Dropbox usage rights to your files to the smooth running of the service, but the phrasing was too vague to make users feel secure that Dropbox wouldn’t and couldn’t abuse their intellectual property rights. For those that think it should be obvious, bear in mind that loopholes have a tendency to turn the legal system on its ear, and that there have been other services — mostly for photos — making news recently because they were specifically saying that they did own your content if you used their service.

In any case, in yesterday’s update, Dropbox has posted a revision to that contested clause that was accompanied by a blog post stating that they have “always believed your stuff is yours and yours alone,” and that they intend to quell users’ fears that Dropbox will own rights to their content. Here’s the new phrasing:

…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. This includes product features visible to you, for example, image thumbnails or document previews. It also includes design choices we make to technically administer our Services, for example, how we redundantly backup data to keep it safe. 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).

To be clear, aside from the rare exceptions we identify in our Privacy Policy, no matter how the Services change, we won’t share your content with others, including law enforcement, for any purpose unless you direct us to. How we collect and use your information generally is also explained in our Privacy Policy

This is definitely an improvement, as it clears up the intellectual property concerns. Of course, the original outrage over how Dropbox can monitor, decrypt, and share your files is still out there, but judging by the terms of service of Amazon’s Cloud Drive and others, including Facebook, Google, Apple, Skype, and Twitter, this sort of thing is fast becoming the norm for cloud services, especially those that offer storage – in the end, we users may have no choice but to assume the position, take it, and like it if we want to use these types of services.

What do you think?

Bobby Travis

Bobby isn't 40-something, but is a strong supporter of the Grown-up Geek kind. He's a loving husband and father first, but is also a freelance writer, productivity nut, operatically trained singer, and (not-so) closet geek. Check out his random thoughts, wackiness, and Instagram pics on Tumblr, Twitter, or Google+-- or just head over to bobby-travis.com.


  1. I don’t use Dropbox, but can’t you define a key yourself that will be used for encrypting and decrypting, so without that key, nobody can decrypt and read your data?

    I wouldn’t want to store anything important in the cloud if I know that the company storing it, can just decrypt my files and read it.

    I know it’s not the same, but that’s why I like CrashPlan as my cloud-based backup. If you haven’t got the key that I defined, you can’t decrypt the data – at least not for many years :)

    • Hi Klaus, I believe that the decrypting was only with Dropbox own encryption capability. I think you can still use external means to protect your data. At doesn’t seem to have slowed down the negative reaction however.

  2. That is way better than the previous wordings in their TOS. Also, I’m surprised that they would not cooperate with law enforcement without your consent. Most online services would throw you under the bus once the boys in blue come a-knockin’.

    But I still use Windows Live Mesh cause it’s faster and even easier to set up.

    • There’s a very important clause in the TOS:
      “aside from the rare exceptions we identify in our Privacy Policy”

      and what are those exceptions, as they related to law enforcement?

      “… We may disclose to parties outside Dropbox files stored in your Dropbox and information about you that we collect when we have a good faith belief that disclosure is reasonably necessary to (a) comply with a law, regulation or compulsory legal request; (b) protect the safety of any person from death or serious bodily injury; (c) prevent fraud or abuse of Dropbox or its users; or (d) to protect Dropbox’s property rights …”

      • Yep. That part is pretty standard, nowadays, and I can see the point, overall. The decrypting of encrypted data before handing it over (not mentioned there) was what took people by surprise.

    • Agreed, Dan. I wasn’t able to get into Live Mesh — what did it for you?

    • To clarify — what I meant was, how does it compare to Dropbox, feature-wise?

      • It’s dead simple. (1) Install, (2) Choose folder/s to upload or sync, (3) watch it work its magic. LM is currently syncing three folders (and more subfolders) in LM. Only one of those folders uses the online space provided by SkyDrive (5GB max). The two other folders contain sensitive files and so I bypass online storage and sync the folders between my devices directly.

        Feature-wise, I can’t compare. I used DB for about a few hours before uninstalling it. I know that LM, through SkyDrive, can also share files with other people, just like in DB. Since LM is integrated with Windows Live, it probably comes pre-installed in most major PC brands. And you don’t need to create another account if you already have a hotmail, live, or msn account (don’t we all?).

        My wish is that LM implements client-side pre-encryption before the files get send through the net, just like SpiderOak and Wuala.

      • Thanks for the tips, Dan. I may have to look at it again at some point. As annoying as all of the security and privacy issues are that surround cloud services are, though, it’s hard to top the convenience of being able to access files from anywhere and any device that has a browser and an Internet connection. I like Live Mesh’s ability to grab from multiple folders — SugarSync is another tool that does that, but also has a dedicated centralized folder like Dropbox.

        Of course, there are interesting service terms there, as well.

  3. Well, its not just with dropbox anymore. Due to international security concerns, there are a lot many other companies who are under heavy pressure to compromise with the privacy of their clients these days.

  4. Pingback: Could Google Drive Be An Evernote Alternative? | 40Tech

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