Over the past few weeks, I’ve been talking with people about offsite backups and the concept of using online document applications and storage (such as Google Docs and the new Google Drive file storage). For business owners, I’m generally against the idea of placing business data on open 3rd party networks. I do recognize the cost savings and accessibility benefits, but there are other data management considerations as well.

When you use a publically accessible, 3rd party application (like Google Docs) or upload a file to a shared file storage service (like the new Google Drive), who owns the file?

A related question is what are the security risks and liability of storing your information on open 3rd party platforms? (For clarity, an open 3rd party platform is available by the general public, and differs from a privately managed service operated specifically for a business).

Google recently updated its unified terms of service for all Google products. In part it states: “When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations, or other changes that we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display, and distribute such content.

In other words, Google appears to reserve the right to do anything it pleases with uploaded data. Or does it?

I ran across an excellent article in Information Week addressing these questions.

Note that this article was written by a US writer. For Canadians, it’s important to note one sentence; “Notably, uploaded files might get lost, stolen, exposed, made irretrievable, or even obtained directly from the service provider with a court order, perhaps without the owner’s knowledge.” The latter is an indirect reference to the US Patriot Act.

That answer to the issue of access without your knowledge is easy – Seek a provider who keeps your data on Canadian servers.

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