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Google Drive: Half-Baked Cloud, With Scary License

Google Drive is an improvement over Google Docs, but it's been released without many of the features that had promised to elevate it above other free consumer cloud services such as Dropbox. Further, this Google service attempts to create a new relationship with users, one that could threaten your privacy.

After years of rumor, Google has finally launched its own cloud service, Google Drive. Google Drive is the new name for Google Docs, and it's "where you can create, share, collaborate, and keep all of your stuff." That stuff includes Google Docs, videos, photos, PDFs and more.

Because it belongs to Google, Google Drive offers some services that the smaller cloud storage services can't. In addition to integration across Google services such as Gmail, Google+, and search, the service includes maturing technologies such as Goggles, which makes photographs of famous sites, newspaper clippings, or street signs instantly searchable. Google also is integrating optical character recognition (OCR) technology that can transform a PDF or TIFF into a searchable document.

To coincide with the release of Google Drive, Google is boosting the free storage for Gmail users to 10GB "and counting." If you subscribe to any of Google's tiered plans for Google Drive--the cheapest is $2.49 a month for 25GB--Google will increase your Gmail storage to 25GB as well.

However, not all of Google Drive's features are in place yet, and the Terms of Service hint at a loss of privacy many users won't anticipate. Google Drive is an improvement over Google Docs, but it's been released without many of the features that promise to elevate it above other free consumer cloud services such as Box, DropBox, SugarSync, and others. In typical Google fashion, Google Drive right now offers only the basics, with a promise to develop it over time, much the way Google+ has evolved. Google Drive seems to be staging the same limited initial release. Is that for buzz or to manage growth? The deployment of Google Drive is different than Google+, which quickly went viral, especially among techs who were all begging each other for invitations. Google is making Drive available to only a limited number of Google account holders. See if you have it. If you don't, you can request it.

The Chrome Web Store currently lists 18 Web apps with Drive integration, including DocuSign, HelloFax, and LucidChart. Right now there is no integration with Picasa, and although you can attach Drive documents in Google+, you can't in Gmail, although Google says that's coming. Opening a Google Doc offline is not yet possible. There's an app for Android devices, but integration with Chrome OS, iOS and Linux aren't ready. There's no mention of an app for Windows Metro or Blackberry but I have to believe that's coming, too.

One of the features we like in Dropbox that is missing from Drive (and Microsoft's SkyDrive for that matter) is a shell extension that integrates a right-click to browse a link or share a doc or folder. Dropbox also syncs your files locally to every computer where the client is installed. You don't have to remember to save offline. Google Drive makes you drag files to the desktop folder to sync them.

Will I use Google Drive? Of course. I've used Evernote, OneNote, Dropbox, YouSendIt, and so many others when someone sends me a one-off file. However, I'm specifically cautious about giving all my data to Google. Aside from losing my connection--whether Google goes down, or a DDOS on my ISP or my router dies (which it did last week)--and losing temporary access to my data, I'm concerned about privacy. According to Google's Terms of Service:

"When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones."

I appreciate the simple-speak, but Google is in the business of advertising and its user base is its product. The TOS is broad enough to allow for indexing and cataloging my content and to get a more accurate understanding of my lifestyle than it ever could with search alone. I can search incognito, but it's impractical to collaborate that way. Drive is Google's answer to Facebook's model of collecting and analyzing vast amounts of personal data for targeting its users with ads. Nothing is free.

Google Drive creates a new relationship with users. As a service provider, Google should be my advocate, but a profile of me can be built from my data and sold to advertisers like it is with Gmail. A paid service should exclude users from this. I've already seen some tools to encrypt files on Drive, but they're clunky and can't be used with Google Docs.

Finally, Google is notorious for deactivating accounts it finds objectionable. Users have lost years of training videos on YouTube, Google Docs, email, contacts. Users who upload media to Google servers do so at their own risk. See its Community Standards page, where "violation of these standards may result in the removal of your profile or deletion of your Google Account." What if they find your files objectionable? With so many competitors out there, working with Google might not be worth the risk.

Name: Google Drive

So far it's only available to a limited number of accounts, but Google has launched Google Drive, a cloud storage service which is also now the home for Google Docs. It has some advantages over the competition, but it's not fully baked, and you should worry about privacy.
Price: 10GB free; $2.49/month for 25GB; $4.99/month for 100GB. More storage included depending on which other Google services you subscribe to.
Pro:
  • Includes Google Docs.
  • Relatively large amount of free storage, extra storage inexpensive.
Con:
  • Terms of Service allows Google to index your Drive data to improve its services.
  • Promised integration with outside products and services (some of them Google's) is not yet ready.
  • Client shell integration inferior to Dropbox's.
  • Weak offline support.
  • No support for iOS, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone.

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