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).
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?