Google+ Hoopla Hiding a Real Danger?


Last week, the world was buzzing about Google+.    I got an invitation, but I haven’t tried it yet.  I probably won’t until absolutely forced to do so.  But the hoopla surrounding its launch got me thinking about all the other social media networks out there already, and what makes this one different.

Here in the U.S., over 30 million people each month visit:

And that’s just in the U.S.  IB Times has an interesting list of the Top 10 social networks in other countries — many of them with features that U.S. social networks may add in the future. 

So the question is, can Google capture the same kind of global audience for Google+ that it has for email, search, and (ugh) Google Docs?  Frankly, I hope not.  I wouldn’t mind at all if Google+ followed Google Wave into obscurity.  Why?  I don’t like Google’s terms of service — and if you’re a photographer, writer, or creative person of any kind, perhaps you shouldn’t, either. 

None of the other social networks I’ve run across in the U.S., and abroad  seem to think that they need the kind of intrusive ownership claims that Google demands.  That goes for other search engines and online email services, too.  Only Google — the company that famously claimed “Do no evil” as its corporate vision statement back when it was a start-up — has terms and conditions like these. 

The Washington Post and dozens of blogs and trade publications for photographers have already warned about the dangers in the truly nasty terms of service language in the Google+ agreement.  Here’s an excerpt, directly from the TOS document:  (I added the highlights.)

By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.

You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.

You understand that Google, in performing the required technical steps to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various media; and (b) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or media. You agree that this license shall permit Google to take these actions.

And don’t think that the overreaching claims of ownership in the Google+ agreement are any different for Google documents and other applications.  They’re not.  Use their service, and many experts think that you could be waiving your rights to profit from your own work — copyrights notwithstanding.  I’m not an attorney — but I’d rather not be a party to the test case that is sure to decide whether Google’s claims and a user’s acceptance of them means for copyright law, either.    So I don’t use Gmail or any other Google service for any content to which I claim a copyright.  (Work-for-hire I perform as part of my employment and as a contractor for others?  Well, that’s not content I claim ownership in, so where it goes isn’t really my business, is it?)

Anyone forced to use Google Docs at work, or Gmail as a default email client, has my sympathy.  I suspect that the average worker who has to rely on these tools on a standard business Internet connection (or worse, WiFi) loses at least two hours a week of productive time just waiting for the system to respond.  And I won’t even start on what happens to a simple Microsoft Word document after it’s been “shared” on Google, then downloaded in what Google swears is a Word format later.  Talk about a time sink that ruins productivity.

Sure, corporate licenses for Google applications and email are cheap.  But you pay for it one way or the other.  You license decent tools that your employees WANT to use — or you license cheap tools your employees hate that waste their time.  And when you lose enough productivity, you wind up paying for additional employees — or to recruit those who left out of frustration.

Same thing with Google+.  You get a new way to promote your content — and you pay for it by giving up your rights to your own content.  It’s not a bargain I’m willing to make.  How about you?

Photo credit:  Google provided this image to journalists and bloggers writing about the service without a copyright notice.  I assume it is (C) 2011 Google.  Or maybe they read their own TOS and didn’t bother?

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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2 Responses to Google+ Hoopla Hiding a Real Danger?

  1. Lisa H says:

    I refuse to use Google for anything but search, period. I don’t want any one service knowing everything about me. And I have hated Gmail’s interface and (as you mentioned) the slowness of Google Docs when I have very occasionally been forced to use them (while kicking and screaming). Thanks for showing us the copyright terms — I wouldn’t even want to post my vacation photos on Google+ after looking at that language. It sounds like even if you decide to take them down and shut off your account, Google still has the right to use them forever in anyway they choose. And everything else you ever posted. Thanks, but no thanks. I need to look at Picassa’s TOS, too. Probably not going to use that any more, either.

    I think companies in general count on users not reading their terms of service, especially the longer and more difficult to read they make them. Maybe naive users don’t think they will ever do much of what they give themselves permission to do. But, in Google’s case, the term “evil” is subjective. And if they talk about that word, they’ve thought about it. And we know that people can change their definitions over time to suit their purpose.

    Maybe we should demand that Google’s legal team define “evil” and include it as part of their TOS so we know what they’re promising NOT to do with our content. At least until they modify the TOS again.

    • debmcalister says:

      My employer uses Gmail and Google Docs, and the chat feature associated with Google Mail. I don’t have any Google products on my personal laptop or desktop machines, though, and I haven’t accepted any of the Google+ invitations I’ve received so far. But I suspect that sooner or later I will have to. So I’m with you on this one, Lisa!

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