Broad terms of service language likely makes the latest cloud file storage service off limits for client files
Earlier this week, Google entered the increasingly-crowded market of cloud-based file storage services by introducing its own utility called Google Drive.
There are a number of popular cloud file storage services available today, with Dropbox, Box, SugarSync, and ShareFile generating the most buzz and interest among financial advisers. Generally, these cloud file storage services give users the ability to back up selected files and folders to servers in the cloud and enable remote access to those documents using mobile apps and web browser interfaces.
Ever since these services launched, financial advisers have questioned whether or not they’re safe to use for the storage of client files.
Last year I wrote Dropbox for Financial Advisers: Is it Safe? which continues to receive consistent traffic from advisers seeking opinions on whether or not using such services will violate any regulatory rules (the short answer is yes, but with conditions. Read the full post for details.).
Safe for Client Files?
With Google Drive, advisers want to know the same thing: is it ok to use to store files containing client information?
I believe the answer is no.
Google’s terms of service explain how the company may use files and information stored on a variety of its services, including Google Drive. Here is the relevant section for advisers:
Your Content in our Services: When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide licence 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. The rights that you grant in this licence are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This licence continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing that you have added to Google Maps).
The terms give Google the license to publish and publicly display content uploaded to their services. In addition, that license continues long after use of the services is discontinued.
Sure, for a listing on Google Maps, the terms make sense. But for files stored on Google Drive, applying the same terms can mean there is no limit to how long Google has the option to use your content.
Google Drive may ultimately prove to be the product that disrupts the cloud file storage market, but for now, financial advisers should stay clear of the service and never use it to store files containing client data.