Google Updates APIs ToS In Light of Tumultuous Legal Landscape

Google has posted updated Google APIs Terms of Service that will take effect December 5, 2014. The last revision Google made to its API Terms of Service was back in December 2011. To help users understand the changes and updates, Google posted a Summary of Changes to assist. Generally speaking, the Google changes can be grouped into four categories: compliance, protective measures, clarifications, and miscellaneous.

Since 2011, Google has been one of many tech giants to make headlines due to legal battles. Depending on the issue, Google has banked some wins, dealt with losses, and occasionally struggled to understand who actually won based on certain court decisions. Given the tumultuous legal landscape, it makes sense that Google would hone in on compliance and beef up protective measures in this round of Terms of Service. New compliance measures include changing the contracting legal entity based on a user’s geographic location, ensuring users have the authority to bind the entity agreeing to the terms, complying with third party rights and other Google terms of service, reporting obligations for unauthorized access to user information, Safe Harbor changes, and prohibiting the use of Google APIs for unauthorized use (e.g. ITAR, harmful use, etc.) and for applications for which data is protected under HIPPA.

On the protective measures front, Google has implemented a number of new terms that ensures users are responsible for their own actions. Such terms include a provision that ensures that Google will enforce call limits and permission to exceed such limits requires Google’s approval, a confirmation that Google may develop competing products or services, more emphasis on Google’s right to monitor API usage and activity, an onus on users to protect developer credentials and Google’s confidential information, a duty on entities to prevent users from performing prohibited activities, a reservation of the right to change or terminate the terms, a waiver of liability for anything beyond foreseeable events, and an indemnity by users for misuse or violations of the API and data. Additionally, Google directs users to review the terms on an ongoing basis and compels users to stop usage if the terms governing API usage become disagreeable.

Seeing as Google’s last modifications were made three years ago, it makes sense that a number of clarifications were added. The scope of the terms were expanded to include API documentation and other services. Open Source software are separated from the terms and Google clearly states that such software is governed by agreements with the Open Source software provider. Google refines its license to use content provided by the user and the data portability provision extends for as long as data is stored. Finally, Google affirms that certain provisions survive termination of the Terms and Conditions (e.g. confidentiality, content, termination, liability, and general provisions).

In the miscellaneous category, Google removed the advertising provision, added a provision for US government agencies, and clarifies that contractual language between API user and Google shall be in English. API terms and conditions are oft considered boring; and in turn, many users pass such terms as legal fluff. However, with recent court decisions and the continued growth of APIs at the core of business strategies; attention to API terms and conditions is a must. Google continues to lead in API development and usage. It is no surprise that its terms would evolve to adapt to the changing API environment. Expect such changes to continue.

Be sure to read the next Law article: Will Oracle v. Google Mean The Death of the API economy?


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