Dropbox Moves To Clear Up Cloud Data Ownership, Terms Of Service Confusion

Dropbox clarified its clarification of its recent Terms of Service revision, which raised questions over cloud storage data ownership, with a blog post that states once and for all that Dropbox users own their own data.

"When we announced an upcoming revision to our Terms of Service last week, we aimed to explain the key changes in plain language to make all our legal docs much clearer," Dropbox co-founders Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi wrote in a new blog post regarding its Terms of Service and cloud data ownership. "It's important to us that these terms are easy to understand, and your feedback has told us that we still have work to do."

Houston and Ferdowsi were addressing concerns among Dropbox's roughly 25 million users to its revised Terms of Service, which stated: "By submitting your stuff to the Services, you grant us (and those we work with to provide the Services) worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display that stuff to the extent reasonably necessary for the Service."

That statement had Dropbox users questioning who owned their data and what Dropbox could legally do with the data users store to its cloud service. Dropbox quickly clarified their stance in a follow-up blog post. "You retain ownership of your stuff. You are solely responsible for your conduct, the content of your files and folders, and your communications with others while using the Services." They added that users only grant Dropbox license to use customer data "solely to enable us to technically administer, display and operate the services."

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Later, the Dropbox founders added: "We want to be 100 percent clear that you own what you put in your Dropbox. We don't own your stuff. And the license you give us is really limited. It only allows us to provide the service to you. Nothing else."

Apparently, that wasn't enough. Days later, Dropbox clarified its language again to address user concerns over cloud data ownership and licensing.

"Most of the concern we've been hearing has been about our licensing language. We've always believed your stuff is yours and yours alone, and we know that many of you, like us, make a living on your creative output," Houston and Ferdowsi wrote. "Photographers, programmers, designers, authors, students, journalists and musicians are just some of the millions of people using Dropbox every day to make their lives easier. The language in this clause was more technical than it needed to be. We understand why terms like 'derivative works' and 'sublicensable' could sound overly broad or out of place here."

The pair continued: "We've never been interested in rights broader than what we need to run Dropbox. We want to get this language right so that you're comfortable using Dropbox with no reservations: what's yours is yours."

NEXT: Dropbox's New Cloud Terms Of Service

In response to user concerns, Dropbox has rewritten the questionable part of its Terms of Service. Now, the Terms of Service reads:

…By using our Services you provide us with information, files, and folders that you submit to Dropbox (together, "your stuff"). You retain full ownership to your stuff. We don't claim any ownership to any of it. These Terms do not grant us any rights to your stuff or intellectual property except for the limited rights that are needed to run the Services, as explained below.

We may need your permission to do things you ask us to do with your stuff, for example, hosting your files, or sharing them at your direction. This includes product features visible to you, for example, image thumbnails or document previews. It also includes design choices we make to technically administer our Services, for example, how we redundantly backup data to keep it safe. You give us the permissions we need to do those things solely to provide the Services. This permission also extends to trusted third parties we work with to provide the Services, for example Amazon, which provides our storage space (again, only to provide the Services).

To be clear, aside from the rare exceptions we identify in our Privacy Policy, no matter how the Services change, we won’t share your content with others, including law enforcement, for any purpose unless you direct us to. How we collect and use your information generally is also explained in our Privacy Policy…

Dropbox's cloud data ownership misstep came on the heels of an authentication bug that left Dropbox users' accounts wide open and accessible by any password. The security lapse also prompted one Dropbox user to file a class action lawsuit against the cloud storage provider.