Dropbox legalese tweak prompts privacy panic

Jul 4, 2011

Dropbox has found itself at the center of a privacy storm this weekend, having changed its terms of service in a way that left many users believing the cloud storage company could share, modify or otherwise use the files they'd uploaded. According to the Dropbox blog, the TOS change - which was flagged up to all users via email - was to make them (along with the security overview and privacy policy) "easier to read and understand." Unfortunately, references to granting Dropbox "rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display [uploaded] stuff" led to confusion over just what the company was going to do with content.

That confusion quickly turned to anger and people deleting their accounts, with comparisons between Dropbox's amended TOS and what Twitter and TwitPic had changed their own service terms to cover in recent months. The company's decision to do so in the middle of a holiday weekend in the US also came in for criticism.

However, Dropbox has quickly responded, making numerous amends to the TOS in an attempt to clarify its position. According to the company, the ominous sounding legalese merely covers "the permissions you give us to run the service, things like creating public links when you ask us to, allowing you to collaborate with colleagues in shared folders, generating web previews or thumbnails of your files, encrypting files, creating backups." The latest version of the service terms (at time of writing) reads:

"You retain ownership to your stuff. You are also solely responsible for your conduct, the content of your files and folders, and your communications with others while using the Services.

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." Dropbox TOS

In the end, any time you're relying on the cloud, you're more than likely putting your data onto someone else's servers. That demands trust, or at least some darned effective encryption; more concerning than these new TOS was Dropbox's security lapse last month, in which encrypted accounts were left unlocked for several hours.

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