Breaking: Dropbox is not the same as your private hard drive

This weekend, though, a small corner of the Internet exploded with concern that Dropbox was going too far, actually scanning users’ private and directly peer-shared files for potential copyright issues. What’s actually going on is a little more complicated than that, but it shows that sharing a file on Dropbox isn’t always the same as sharing that file directly from your hard drive over something like e-mail or instant messenger.

The whole kerfuffle started yesterday evening, when one Darrell Whitelaw tweeted a picture of an error he received when trying to share a link to a Dropbox file via IM. The Dropbox webpage warned him and his friend that “certain files in this folder can’t be shared due to a takedown request in accordance with the DMCA.”

So, is Dropbox snooping through your files? Well, yes, but no.

“We sometimes receive DMCA notices to remove links on copyright grounds,” the company said in a statement provided to Ars. “When we receive these, we process them according to the law and disable the identified link. We have an automated system that then prevents other users from sharing the identical material using another Dropbox link. This is done by comparing file hashes.”

Kyle Orland | Ars Technica

To be clear, Dropbox hasn’t removed or deleted Whitelaw’s files, they’ve just denied his ability to share a link to the file, which all things considered, seems fairly reasonable. More relevant though, is that yes, Dropbox is in effect scanning your files even if it is just being done by file hash bots, so while Whitelaw and undoubtedly many, many others may use Dropbox just like a private external hard drive at home or at work, it, like most everything else cloud related, is definitely not private.