Dropbox is a service that we all know and love. This amazing product has made a huge splash in the app industry and has gone far beyond a simple backup service and become a way for us to all share files and keep data synced between devices.
Recently, the Dropbox team updated their terms of service and in doing do caught the attention of several tech blogs and users. Rumors began circulating wide and far that the company had stepped over the line as far as file usage rights. We were sick of rumors and went straight to the source and asked some people at Dropbox what was going on. We gave them an opportunity to give us three reasons we should still trust them with our data. Below we’ll share with you what they said.
I’ll start this story off where I came in and screwed things up. Over this past weekend I was preparing for the holiday and trying not to work too much, but I figured I’d poke around the web and fire off a few interesting tweets for good measure. I noticed that lots of people were complaining about Dropbox supposedly overstepping their boundaries with the usage rights of the files that people choose to backup. I found an article quoting the new Dropbox Terms of Service and sent out a brief tweet about Dropbox “owning” your content with a link to the article. Here’s the quote that the article had pulled from the new Dropbox TOS:
By submitting your stuff to the Services, 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 we think it necessary for the Service.
Looking back, my tweet was out of line. I hadn’t really investigated and to be honest I didn’t intend to. I linked people to a hot story and let them figure things out for themselves. I wasn’t intentionally reporting, just sharing a link. Then I began receiving responses from angry customers claiming that they were going to drop the service. I realized immediately how poor my choice of words had been, but Twitter doesn’t really have an undo now does it?
At this point, I had put myself into this mess so it was time to do some due diligence. I began researching and I found that several customers were venting their frustration. I began ensuring our Twitter followers that it was likely a big misunderstanding and that Dropbox was and is a solid and trustworthy company. Meanwhile, I contacted Dropbox for comment and they gladly helped me out and answered any questions that I had.
The Real Quote
The quote above definitely sounds a little suspicious. In fact, it sounds a little like Dropbox is going to start stealing my content and using it however they see fit for personal gain!
However, before you get excited about this, you should understand that these words were taken slightly out of context. Here’s the expanded quote straight from the Dropbox TOS with a bit more explanation as to what’s going on.
We sometimes need your permission to do what you ask us to do with your stuff (for example, hosting, making public, or sharing your files). By submitting your stuff to the Services, 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 license is solely to enable us to technically administer, display, and operate the Services. You must ensure you have the rights you need to grant us that permission.
Is This Permission Necessary?
With a little bit of context, this suddenly becomes a lot less ominous now doesn’t it? Let’s point out two key areas to focus on, neither of which were in the quote presented by the aforementioned tech blog.
- “We sometimes need your permission to do what you ask us to do with your stuff (for example, hosting, making public, or sharing your files).”
- “This license is solely to enable us to technically administer, display, and operate the Services.”
Here we get some clarity as to why we must grant Dropbox “sublicenseable rights” rights to our files. When we use the services, we’re asking them to host, backup, make copies and share our files with other people. Now, in order to do all of these things, they need some pretty far reaching permissions.
The terms clearly state that this permission is “solely” for the purpose of operating the service and they limit their use to what is “reasonably necessary” for the service. Granted, that term is a little vague, but if you’re really afraid that Dropbox will take your photos and sell them to Coca-Cola for an ad, you’ll definitely be covered here.
Is This Still Going Too Far?
If you find yourself wondering if Dropbox is still going to far, here’s a quote from a recent Dropbox blog post that was written in response to user feedback on this very issue.
“We want to be 100% clear that you own what you put in your Dropbox. We don’t own your stuff. And the license you give us is really limited. It only allows us to provide the service to you. Nothing else.”
There it is plain as day. Dropbox doesn’t own your content and any permission that you give them for it limits them to providing you with the services that you signed up to receive in the first place.
Is This Common?
One thing that helps provide context on this matter is whether or not Dropbox is branching out on their own with such policies or if this in fact standard operating procedure for this type of service.
To answer, this, let’s take a look at Google’s Terms of Service, which are applied to Google Docs and other content that you post to your account.
By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google 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 license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.
Sound familiar? It should because it’s almost exactly the language used by Dropbox. In fact, if you look around, you will find that just about every service where you post content has a similar agreement that you of signed when you joined up.
Three Reasons You Shouldn’t Drop Dropbox
“Just in case you’re still not convinced that Dropbox isn’t an evil corporation out to steal your Microsoft Word Documents, I asked Dropbox spokesperson Julie Supan point blank to give us three reasons why we should trust Dropbox with our data. The responses that I received were stellar.”
1) A Promise of Security and Trust
2) A Dedication to Transparency
3) A Commitment to Acting on Feedback
User feedback is important to us; it helps us build a better service. That is why we’re working hard to remove the “legalese” in our policies. We have always welcomed feedback from the Dropbox community. When we heard feedback regarding our recent changes, we worked quickly to address any misperceptions about our intent, which is reflected in our blog posts.
To sum up, this entire situation was a media storm gone bad. The truth is, there is literally nothing suspicious, malign or out of the ordinary in the Dropbox Terms of Service. Dropping Dropbox because you refuse to grant them the necessary rights would mean that you should also cease all ties to Google and just about any other online service where you post images, text or data of any kind.
I am not on the Dropbox payroll. This is not a sponsored post. I’m a user, just like you, who was initially concerned about the recent hype but has now been fully convinced that Dropbox is in fact a superb company. I won’t be removing a single file from my Dropbox account because I have just as much or more faith in their dedication to security and privacy that I did two weeks ago.
Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts. Do you trust Dropbox with your data? How about Google and other services with nearly identical TOS agreements?