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Google Drive Begs the Question: Who Owns Your Data in the Cloud?

By , CIO
May 02, 2012 05:15 PM ET

CIO - Like any new technology, data storage in the cloud has gone through a maturation period. Employees started out, way back in 2007, moving a few files over to Then, IT started experimenting with cloud storage through more robust services like Rackspace Cloud Files. Now, executives are starting to wonder if all enterprise storage can be hosted in the cloud, and not in an on-premise data center.

Yet, a recent uproar over the Google Drive service for consumers raised several important questions about cloud storage. Many of these consumer-level questions--Aabout who owns your data, how the data can be used and what happens if the data is lost or stolen--are helpful for enterprise executives to ask as well. The answers may depend on the fine print in your own contract with a provider.

IN DEPTH: Is Google Drive ready for prime time?

Questions About Google Drive

Every so often, a debate about cloud storage crops up, and it presents a good opportunity for IT executives to take stock of their own agreements, especially when it comes to storage. Last week, Google announced Google Drive with great fanfare. Within a few hours, users were already gaining access to the service, which provided 5GB of document and media storage for free.

According to the Google terms of service, Google has the right to use consumer data to improve and even promote their own services. The company also has the right, according to the terms of service, to create "derivative works" from content stored in Google Drive, and to "publically display and distribute such content" even with their partners. Yet, the wording is not necessarily that alarming.

That's because, with most cloud storage vendors, the policies tend to be open to interpretation.

Michael S. Neustel, a U.S. Patent Attorney with Neustel Law Offices says most cloud storage vendors have similar policies related to using, modifying and reproducing data. This allows vendors the freedom to move an archive from one data center to another. Neustel says it is unlikely Google would ever use private data for a television commercial. In fact, the terms state clearly that the user still owns the data, and that private storage archives will remain private.

However, Neustral says the policies are overly vague. Google has one standard terms of service they use for all of their services. "The Google Drive policy is inherently unfair to users since it requires Google Drive users to provide Google with several unnecessary rights to their copyrighted works," he says.

Neustral says the policy might apply for a service like Google Translate, where the data has to be analyzed and even parsed for intended meaning, but not for cloud storage. That's a good lesson for CIOs who need to understand cloud storage policies--one size does not fit all.

Enterprise Cloud Storage: Read the Contract

That's why, for enterprise cloud storage, most experts say the most critical step with storage policies is to investigate the actual contract you have with the vendor. This might require scrutiny from a corporate attorney, and further investigations into such intangibles as how to retain data archives if a cloud storage vendor goes under and how to encrypt access to the cloud storage.

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