Google pulls a Microsoft on user privacy

The Internet titan is turning out to be no better than Microsoft when it comes to user privacy, as its Chrome terms of service demonstrate.

What is Google thinking? For those who didn't catch Ina Fried's perceptive review of Google Chrome's terms of service Tuesday, ReadWriteWeb piles on Wednesday. In the terms of service, Google claims "a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services."

This may not be as dire as it sounds. It could be simply a way for Google to retain the right to post content that users expressly authorize it to publicly reproduce. No harm, no foul.

But it also sounds suspiciously familiar to the privacy landgrab that Microsoft Passport made back in 2001, and even though the user retains her copyrights, it's a weak salve for the open door that Google grants itself. Yes, Google will likely say (as it did in 2007 about the privacy problems inherent in its Google Docs terms of service) that it has no nefarious designs on its users' content.

Of course it doesn't, well, beyond advertising against them and discovering other ways to monetize it without necessarily owning it. I'm not suggesting that this is evil. I'm just suggesting that there are, in fact, ways to take a less expansive stance in the legalese around public display of information.

The primary problem with Google's terms of service (other than the auto-update feature that Ina also points out) is that Google allows itself too much, and restricts itself too little. I suspect that Google will actually do none of the evil privacy-busting practices that many will accuse it of preparing. My concern is that this language is so broad that Google could, if it were so inclined, invade user privacy on a grand scale. The terms of service allow it. Only Google's best intentions prevent it.

The industry shot down Microsoft's Passport attempts. Let's hope the industry does the same for Google's own privacy landgrab.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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