MISC. 21


Google is one of the highest scoring companies in our survey. Content that you submit to Google can only be used for the purpose of operating Google services. It has a good record of responding to government requests for user data. It also is a little more friendly than most of its peers when it comes to amendment and termination, promising, for example, to allow users to download their data before a Google service shuts down.

Data Use

Google's Terms of Service makes it clear that users retain ownership of intellectual property rights in any content that they submit (“what belongs to you stays yours”). You grant Google a license to use your content, but only for the “limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving” Google services. This immediately puts Google ahead of most of its peers with respect to data use: most other services do not include this limitation (notable exceptions are Microsoft and Yahoo!). But the scope of Google’s services is already so vast — and will presumably become even more all-encompassing — that users could potentially have their data used for something that has no relationship to the purpose for which they provided it. We would prefer that Google limit this provision so that they can use content only with respect to the service to which it was uploaded. For example, if you upload a photo to Picasa, Google should certainly be able to make use of it to provide the Picasa service. But should it be able to use it for its other services, like Image Search?

The license that you grant Google continues even if you stop using Google’s services. For some services, this makes sense. For example, if you’ve added a business listing to Google maps, you would not expect that listing to be deleted if you close your Google account. But for other services, it does not. For example, we think a Gmail user can reasonably expect that Google will stop having rights in their email when they close their Gmail account. We asked Google about this, and weren’t entirely satisfied with their response:

Our Terms of Service is intended to apply across many of our services, since it was unreasonable to expect users to read separate terms for each Google service they use. A consequence of a more consolidated terms structure is that sometimes items like this appear which are more applicable to certain services than others.

If this provision is not applicable to some services, those services should be excluded.

SCORE: 17 / 25
  • Google can only use your content in the context of its own services
  • Google can share your content between its various services
  • If you stop using Google services, Google can still use your content

Data Disclosure

Like many of the other companies surveyed, Google’s terms give it broad powers to share your personal information with third parties. It can do so if it believes that disclosing the information is reasonably necessary to (1) comply with the law, (2) enforce the terms, (3) address, fraud, security or technical issues, or (4) protect against harm to the rights, property, or safety of Google, its users, or the public. As we have noted in our summary of results, these provisions are often too broad.

Google’s record of responding to government data requests, however, is commendable. The volume is large: in 2011, it received over 12,000 requests for user data from U.S. authorities alone. Google attempts to notify affected users about government data requests - although as the EFF notes, it has not yet made this commitment in a formal policy. It also has a good record of properly considering each claim rather than just handing over everything the government asks for without question. As Google explained it to us:

Whenever we receive a request we make sure it meets both the letter and spirit of the law before complying. When possible and legal to do so, we notify affected users about requests for user data that may affect them. And if we believe a request is overly broad, we will seek to narrow it. In 2006, for example, we went to court to fight a US Department of Justice subpoena for millions of search queries on the grounds that it invaded our users’ privacy. We objected to the subpoena and eventually the government was required to narrow their request, establishing an important precedent for user privacy.
SCORE: 18 / 25
  • Google can share your data with third parties
  • Google has good policies and procedures when it comes to responding to government requests for users' data

Amendment & Termination

Like most of the other companies surveyed, Google has broad powers to change its terms of service and to terminate its relationship with you. There are, however, a few pro-user provisions that put it slightly ahead of the curve:

  • Google agrees to give 14 days notice before any change to the ToS becomes effective (except for changes addressing new functions for a service or changes made for legal reasons, which become effective immediately).
  • Google agrees that if it discontinues a service, it will give users reasonable advance notice and a chance to get information out of that service (where reasonably possible).
SCORE: 15 / 25
  • These provisions are slightly more favorable than is standard


Google’s ToS are written in clear, concise language, mostly free of legalese, and are among the most readable we have surveyed.

SCORE: 21 / 25
  • Well-drafted agreements

Peer Sites

Social networks

Google is included for its Google+ social network

Cloud storage

Google is included for its Google Drive service; Amazon for its AWS S3 storage service