Dropbox privacy concerns: Should you care?

dropbox-logo-largeDropbox has become the go-to solution for cloud-based storage and sharing needs, which is why the site’s recent update of its privacy policy has struck a chord with its millions of users. The company changed up its wording when it comes to how it deals with law enforcement: “We may disclose to parties outside Dropbox files stored in your Dropbox and information about you that we collect when we have a good faith belief that disclosure is reasonably necessary.”

According to Dropbox, the change was implemented because it felt the former policy was too far-reaching, and “gave Dropbox rights that we didn’t even want.” That said, the company does want users to know “that we work hard to keep your most important data safe, secure, and private,” and that its folly was not in rewording its Terms of Service but in failing to explain it in a timely matter.

Why you shouldn’t care

The changes are nothing remarkable: As Dropbox points out, they are nearly identical to Apple, Google, Twitter, and Skype’s terms of service as it applies to law enforcement. If you’re doing illegal things and documenting them in any form on the Internet, you’re always liable to get caught.

Furthermore, it sounds like Dropbox isn’t actually changing its infrastructure when it comes to user privacy, it’s just more thoroughly explaining it. The uproar (or mild discomfort) the policy change caused was largely due to the fact that Dropbox announced its staff do have the tools to allow certain parties to access encrypted files upon request. Prior to the change, the site’s wording persuaded users to believe that staff was completely unable to access user’s files – now, Dropbox is adjusting that to explain that staff are not allowed to access user files.

So it seems this is more a “it’s the principle of thing” argument than anything else. Dropbox assures users that it’s extremely rare for law enforcement to request information – the company has received requests “about one a month over the past year for our more than 25 million users” and that these have been attached to criminal investigations. The site is exploding right now, and seeing as it’s been dependable up to this point, we could write it off as growing pains. That, and the fact that privacy concerns are what you sign up for when you defer to the cloud.

Why you should care

Being misled when it comes to your data is always upsetting at the least, inciting at the most. Nothing has changed when it comes to Dropbox’s day-to-day operations and handling of your documents, but users were led to believe something that was simply untrue. Saying that staff don’t have the ability to access your ecrypted files is very, very different from saying that only a few can and no one is allowed to without certain permissions.

It also doesn’t help that Dropbox only clarified its new terms of service after users and the media noticed. “We understand that many of your have been confused by this situation – and some folks even felt like we misled them, or were careless about their privacy,” Dropbox explains. But it gives the impression that the site tried to slip one by us, and only fessed up after getting caught. We feel like sighing and saying, “We aren’t mad, Dropbox. Just disappointed.”

And it can probably go without being said, but if you have documents you under no circumstances want the government looking at, keep them out of Dropbox.

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