Google microscopePeople around the web are enraged over a statement found in the terms and conditions for Google Docs & Spreadsheets. At first glance, they have a right to be upset, however by reading the terms and conditions in its entirety and a little explanation, no one has anything to be upset about.




The statement in question reads:

“By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through Google services which are intended to be available to the members of the public, you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, modify, publish and distribute such Content on Google services for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting Google services.”

Who wants Google to be granted with a non-exclusive, royalty-free license to your content? While Google may have poorly chosen the wording for the terms and conditions, reading the entire terms and conditions helps to clarify:

Google claims no ownership or control over any Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through Google services. You or a third party licensor, as appropriate, retain all patent, trademark and copyright to any Content you submit, post or display on or through Google services and you are responsible for protecting those rights, as appropriate. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through Google services which are intended to be available to the members of the public, you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, modify, publish and distribute such Content on Google services for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting Google services. Google reserves the right to syndicate Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through Google services and use that Content in connection with any service offered by Google. Google furthermore reserves the right to refuse to accept, post, display or transmit any Content in its sole discretion.”

The reason Google includes the part in question is for content which a user gives permission to display to the public.  That means that any of your documents which you decide to keep private, Google claims no ownership or control over it.

While Google has had its fair share of privacy issues, I’m not inclined to believe that they are trying to say that they own all of your content in Google Docs and Spreadsheets, thus creating a privacy issue. It’s one of those situations where they had to cover their backs for documents that users decide to make public and Google is responsible for displaying.

The article that ZDNet posted about this was titled “The Content in Google Apps Belongs to Google,” and was mis-leading. One of the founders of Writely (which became Google Docs) posted a comment on that article offering a further explanation:

As we state in our terms of service, we don’t claim ownership or control over your content in Google Docs & Spreadsheets, whether you’re using it as an individual or through Google Apps. Read in its entirety, the sentence from our terms of service excerpted in the blog ensures that, for documents you expressly choose to share with others, we have the proper license to display those documents to the selected users and format documents properly for different displays. To be clear, Google will not use your documents beyond the scope that you and you alone control. Your fantasy football spreadsheets are not going to end up shared with the world unless you want them to be.

Hopefully this clears up the confusion for some of you. No, you don’t need to worry about you private data being used by Google for promoting their services, or distributed, and yes, you own and control the content submitted through Google services.

Thanks for the tip, Pieter!