Wayne Small, an Australian SBS consultant, took a look at Google’s license agreement recently and wrote up a nice reminder that big companies do not make any pretense of playing nicely with your information.
Google Terms of Service cover all of Google’s services, including Gmail. There are some provisions that shouldn’t be surprising – for example, that Google can turn services off without warning or notice, with no consequences.
You probably already know that Google runs through the text of email messages to decide what advertisements will be presented, but it’s interesting to find out that Google has reserved the right to filter, modify, or remove anything you receive by email. It’s not very likely that it will playfully change your incoming email messages, but it took the trouble to ensure that it could if it likes.
And then Wayne spotted the provision that gives complete control to Google of everything you send through one of their services – your email, your voice messages, your searches, everything.
“Section 11.1 – now this is the big one. Here you are allowing Google free use of anything you give them. They can sell it, distribute it, reproduce it, modify it, publish it… basically anything they want to do, they can… because you’ve just agreed to it.”
It is scary to think about the power that big companies exert over individuals and small businesses. Provisions like this should be considered when you make decisions about online services that will handle your business or confidential email or documents, but don’t necessarily use this as a reason to avoid Google. I haven’t looked but I’ll bet we could find similar language in the license agreements for virtually any software or online service. I have fond memories of the language in Microsoft’s media software a few years ago that gave Microsoft the right to kill your music library if it decided you needed a lesson in “digital rights management.” It’s a frightening world if you read the fine print!