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Google Chrome: Google Amends Terms of Service

written by: Lamar Stonecypher•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 10/15/2009

At release, the Google Chrome web browser terms of service included a section that seemed to imply that Google had rights to any intellectual property that passed through the browser. This caused a lot of discussion on the web. How did Google respond to criticism, and was the concern genuine?

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    As I mentioned previously,I read and saved the original terms of service before downloading the Google Chrome installer. I found the following section a bit confusing.

    11. Content license from you

    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.

    11.4 You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the above license.

    What, I wondered, does that mean?

    Does that mean that just because I’m using their browser, they get rights to anything I enter at my banking site? The forums in which I participate? The Bright Hub interface I use when entering my articles?

    Isn’t Google’s motto “Do no evil?”

    Maybe the mail room blamed for prematurely releasing the Google Chrome Comic was also ahead of the legal department?

    I wasn’t the only person, of course, confused by that language. In the two days after the Chrome release, discussion snowballed and ended up on Slashdot. David Loschiavo, an attorney in Florida, responded online, too. He said, “I'd like to think that this is just the software guys moving faster than the legal guys and they boilerplate copied/pasted from the other ToS, but Google has an army of lawyers. Someone should have seen this. I can't stress it enough that I don't think Google intended for everything passing through Chrome to automagically create a license for Google, but you'd think someone with the resources of Google would have fixed this.”

    He was right. The terms of service today read exactly like this.

    11. Content license from you

    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.

    If you’re interested in reading Mr. Loschiavo’s well-reasoned comments and the answer he got from Google, please click here.

    So was this a tempest in a teapot? A whoops(!) on Google’s part? Or where they really planning to use everything that passed through their browser any way they see fit without paying users and intellectual property holders one thin dime?

    I’ll take it at face value. Google already knows a lot about me because I use Gmail. I don’t think that Google actually does evil, but I’m very glad that they fixed this.

    Now I’m left to wonder what that marvelous “Omnibox” communicates back to the mother ship (Google) in order to power its features. For example, in the first article, I talked about entering “am” and pressing tab to get an Amazon search. Am I concerned about Google knowing what I search for when shopping? Too, when I’m typing into the Omnibox, Chrome is apparently consulting the mother ship in order to power website suggestions for me . . .

    If you’re really paranoid, you can disable using Google as the default search engine. Do this by right-clicking in the Omnibox and select “Edit Search Engines.” In the dialog, you can select another search engine as well as un-check “Use a suggestion service to help complete searches and URLs typed in the address bar.”

    I love conspiracy theories as well as the next guy, but as David Pogue points out in the New York Times, “Will Google ensure that its own services run better in Chrome than in other browsers? Is this part of Google’s great conspiracy? That’s a no and a no. Chrome is open-source, meaning that its code is available to everyone for inspection or improvement — even to its rivals. That’s a huge, promising twist that ought to shut up the conspiracy theorists.”

    Now: Google Chrome: Google Amends Terms of Service

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