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Me, myself, and my code.

Google Chrome's Terms of Service: They want your stuff?

03 September 2008

UPDATE: The Terms of Service have been updated as of September 4th 2008 to state that you retain the rights and copyright on all things displayed with or through “The Service”. The EULA is no longer a problem and I look forward to giving Chrome an in depth try. (See the EULA here: html)

How often have you tried to install an application only to be stopped by a dialog asking you to agree to some terms of service (TOS), or an end user license agreement (EULA)?Now how often do you actually take the time to read through these terms to see what you’re agreeing to?

When I switched to Linux for my day to day computing I did not miss these constant reminders that my ability to use my computer was being impeded by some faceless corporate entity somewhere. I quickly became interested in the content of these agreements that I used to click through without a passing thought, and I was surprised at what I found.

Many of these agreements are almost exactly the same; they all contain the same boiler plate legalese defining the terms used in the agreement, and protecting the company from frivolous lawsuits. In the case of web services, the standard TOS will also protect the company from content you post on their service, as well as protect them from you should you find something objectionable on their service. Some sites which are used to archive or distribute your content on the web, such as deviantART, Flickr, or many Google services, also grant themselves royalty-free non-exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, or perform your works. This essentially prevents them from people who don’t understand that in order to present this content to the web at large, they need to make a copy.

In the majority of cases, pieces of desktop software do not contain the same royalty-free distribution clauses as web applications (with the exception of software designed to use the web services) because they don’t need your content. They’ll still protect themselves from reverse-engineering and hacking, but not much else more.

However, when reading Google Chrome’s terms of service I couldn’t help but notice a slight difference. Unlike the desktop applications I was used to, this terms of service seems to treat the application like a service!

Throughout the document you’re reminded of the rights granted to you while using the “Service”. Nowhere in the document is a distinction made between Google Chrome and Google’s services. As a result we end up with some curious phrases granting some rather astonishing rights to Google.

Take the following for example:

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.

What that says to me, is that any content I display or submit using Google Chrome I grant Google the right to use to display, distribute, and promote Google Chrome.

But wait, what if I use Google Chrome to access my web based source repository? Do I grant Google the right to display and distribute the source code viewed to promote their product? What if I’m an artist, and I preview some files for web viewing in Google Chrome. Do I grant Google the rights to these images for promotional purposes?

It is due to these concerns that I sent the following letter as part of my uninstall questionnaire:

I am not happy with one fairly critical decision made for Chrome distribution: The Terms of Service.

I do not like the idea that Google Chrome will automatically download and update itself for me as described in the terms of service. In addition to the above, the overzealous use of the term “Service” to describe everything Google does, (presumably including Chrome since no language states otherwise) thereby granting Google trademark free and royalty free rights to my content is completely unacceptable.

While I do not believe that the Terms of Service were penned with malicious intent, but the danger is there and I must avoid it.

Other than the issues with the Terms of Service I found Chrome quite nice, but I can’t risk sacrificing the rights to my content for the sake of a new web browser. Unfortunately that means my opinion of Chrome will only change when the Terms of Service do.

I can’t help but think only semi-sarcastically, “Why does a project supposedly fueled with such an Open Source mindset have such a draconian license anyway?”


Joseph Bauser

While I’m positive the TOS was not penned with malicious intent, I can’t use any product or service which grants such far-reaching rights to its creators. If Google chooses to modify their Terms of Service for Chrome, I’d be happy to give it an honest trial.