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Google’s hostile EULA – how long can you avoid it?

This article was originally published on September 3, 2008.

Update 2022

According to this archive of the original article on this subject, Google acquiesced and changed the language of Chrome's EULA.

I, like pretty much everyone in the known Internet-accessible world, use Google. A lot. I’ve used Google Docs in the past, I have friends and family who only use Google Talk for chatting, Google is obviously the biggest and best search engine available, and now they have a browser.

A browser which, unfortunately, I will not be using.

There's an interesting article that lays out the details of Google’s EULA (end-user license agreement). It’s not pretty.

This has all come to light with the release of Chrome, but Google’s user-hostile EULA has been around for much longer. The basic gist of it is that Google claims to have royalty-free license to use, manipulate, and/or modify any content (text, images, etc) that you send through their services.

What does this mean for you? Google’s EULA stipulates that you confirm your legal right to any content you send – that it’s your own intellectual property (IP). This just isn’t possible, as the above article discusses. If you use your corporate webmail through Chrome, you have no right to give Google license to use any content sent through email. Your company holds all rights to that content – not you, not Google.

Is it possible to live without Google? Probably, but I’m not interested in giving it up as my search engine. I won’t, however, be using Google’s browser (although for other reasons as well, which I’ll discuss in another article). I’ll also be pretty cautious about using Google Docs to store any important content – I’d much rather put some kind of document management system on my own server, free of anyone’s service or license agreements.

Google’s started to get a little powerful for its own good. I applied for a job there in 2006 (when I was finishing my undergraduate studies at IUPUI), and they were pretty underhanded and unethical in how they handled the interview process. I was never explicitly informed that I was applying for a contract position with no guarantee of full-time salaried employment. I had to ask them directly about that – it’s just not an honest way to do things. Aside from that personal experience, though, just look at how widespread Google has become. They’ve infiltrated many industries. They’re talking about releasing a smartphone with an alternative to Windows Mobile and PalmOS. They’re buying up other services to expand their reach. It’s how capitalism works, but it this case, I think it’s becoming a little dangerous.

Like Apple, people just trust Google to treat them well as customers and users. They trust Google to not abuse its power, and they believe that it has their individual best interests in mind. Unfortunately, that’s just not how corporations work. Google is like any other corporation in that they are driven by what funds them – their stockholders. Google continues to provide good products, because it means people will be interested in their offerings and will consider buying their stock. But at the end of the day, it’s not about your interests at all – it’s about money and profit. Google is no better a corporation than Microsoft; it’s just that the owners of Google aren’t as upfront about their evil as Steve Ballmer is.

I started looking around for alternatives to some of Google’s offerings. There’s an interesting service provider called Zoho that seems to provide a lot of the same services without the hostile user agreement. In fact, Zoho is the complete opposite:

We respect your right to ownership of content created or stored by you. Unless specifically permitted by you, your use of the Services does not grant AdventNet the license to use, reproduce, adapt, modify, publish or distribute the content created by you or stored in your Account for AdventNet’s commercial, marketing or any similar purpose.

It used be that nobody read EULAs on software or services, because they all said the same thing – a disclaimer, limitation of liability, and rules about what’s considered illegal and grounds for revocation of the license in question. Now, however, with Google’s EULA coming under public scrutiny, it might be worth your time to make sure you haven’t agreed to any license terms that no sane person should ever voluntarily agree to.