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Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Thinking about using the free Google applications to run your practice? Have you read their Terms of Service? Wait, you’re a lawyer, of course you’ve carefully read their terms of service. Well humor me…let’s give it a look-see anyhow.

Change is in the Wind

4.2 Google is constantly innovating in order to provide the best possible experience for its users. You acknowledge and agree that the form and nature of the Services which Google provides may change from time to time without prior notice to you.

The first reaction most folks have to this is “O.K., cool, they’re going to upgrade and update the software on a regular basis and I don’t have to install any updates!” But the first reaction most IT people have to this is “Wait, so they’re going to change the product my users are running without any warning or giving us any testing period?!”

Many firms skipped upgrading to Microsoft Office 2007 because they didn’t like the new Ribbon interface, or they felt they needed additional time to prepare for the training curve that was going to introduce to their users. Any new version of key application software needs to be deployed carefully because in today’s IT world everything interconnects – your word processor integrates with your document management system. Your e-mail client integrates with your practice management software. Your time and billing software exports reports to your spreadsheet software.

But what Google is telling you here is that their free apps could change at any moment, without warning. You just log in tomorrow and suddenly you have Office 2010 and no opportunity to train your users on the changes before they get thrown into the deep end of the pool. When you’re on a deadline to get documents out the door is not the best time to have to figure out the unexpected changes in your word processor.

Where Did it Go?

4.3 As part of this continuing innovation, you acknowledge and agree that Google may stop (permanently or temporarily) providing the Services (or any features within the Services) to you or to users generally at Google’s sole discretion, without prior notice to you. You may stop using the Services at any time. You do not need to specifically inform Google when you stop using the Services.

4.4 You acknowledge and agree that if Google disables access to your account, you may be prevented from accessing the Services, your account details or any files or other content which is contained in your account.

4.5 You acknowledge and agree that while Google may not currently have set a fixed upper limit on the number of transmissions you may send or receive through the Services or on the amount of storage space used for the provision of any Service, such fixed upper limits may be set by Google at any time, at Google’s discretion.

Having your application software change unexpectedly is better than losing access to it altogether, though. In these clauses Google is reserving the right to simply turn it off, whenever they want, without warning. And notice that 4.4 specifies that if they do that…you may lose access to “any files or other content which is contained in your account.” Like that 72-page brief you’ve been working on for the last week and is due tomorrow.

4.5 says that while you may currently have unlimited usage rights, at some point in the future Google may decide to impose a limit on your usage. Reasonable of them, yes, but something you need to be aware of.

I’ve Got My Eye On You

8.3 Google reserves the right (but shall have no obligation) to pre-screen, review, flag, filter, modify, refuse or remove any or all Content from any Service. For some of the Services, Google may provide tools to filter out explicit sexual content. These tools include the SafeSearch preference settings (see http://www.google.com/help/customize.html#safe). In addition, there are commercially available services and software to limit access to material that you may find objectionable.

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. 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. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

11.2 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.

11.3 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 now we get to the meat of the matter. These clauses give Google the right to “review”, “modify” or “remove” any content from the service. And 11.1…well… ”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.”

Nuff said?

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Comments

  1. Does this apply to the Google Apps Premiere edition as well?

  2. Chris, I haven’t read the Premier (Google Apps for Business) TOS very carefully yet, but in my casual reading it looks like these problems are specific to the FREE version and that the paid version of Apps is much better in this regard.

    As with anything though, a careful read of the TOS is important if your data is important.