Dennis Yi Tenen Ø about notes projects publications service talks teaching

Google's Terms of Service

Here is something to think about: the contract you make with Google in using (most of) their services. Their standard formula is:

8.1. Google claims no ownership or control over any Content or Application. You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in the Content and/or Application, and you are responsible for protecting those rights, as appropriate. By submitting, posting or displaying the Content on or through the Service you give Google a worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such Content for the sole purpose of enabling Google to provide you with the Service in accordance with its privacy policy. Furthermore, by creating an Application through use of the Service, you give Google a worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such Application for the sole purpose of enabling Google to provide you with the Service in accordance with its privacy policy.

The above comes from Google App Engine, but it is pretty much the same for GWT, AJAX APIs, and Gmail. The formulation is particularly troublesome for academic applications. I don’t mind giving up my personal email, but my work? Actually, I take it back. The distinction is moot: my Gmail account is already handling most of my (and my students’) university mail, which often includes attachments that range from family photos to dissertation drafts. Sure, today, Google is a benevolent giant. The company simply wants to help you index and search your data. But, tomorrow it may decide to expand, or it may be bought out by other, more sinister interests. And then: all your base are belong to us.

Should we be worried? Let’s take a closer look at the formulation. When using (almost) anything made by Google, you, the user, retain the rights **to your content. At the same time, you grant Google **a license to use any such content (to perform it even!)…in return for a free service. Is this a good deal? Should we continue leveraging Google’s engineering (in my case, to make neat tools for digital humanities) or rely on our own, more limited resources?

The answer to that question may be in your Gmail inbox. Some 30 million users per month agree to the Terms of Service to gain access to the best webmail client around. I know I did. I also use Google Calendar, Google Docs, and (the now defunct) Google Notebook daily. My colleagues have developed wonderful applications using Google APIs. It seems to be worth it for now. But we need to think about what we are giving away in the future.

made w/ vim + markdown + jekyll + tachyons + github pages CC BY-SA 2017