UC Davis scraps Gmail pilot: Privacy levels 'unacceptable'

Summary:A major blow to Google; the University of California has ditched its pilot of its outsourced email service citing 'privacy issues' to its 30,000 student and staff users.

Google has been hit with a major blow in regards to privacy by a leading US university, which this week ended their pilot of the outsourced Google Apps email system.

Peter Siegel, the University of California Davis chief information officer, sent a letter with support from senior staff to employees stating that the Gmail pilot to supply 30,000 students and staff would end before a full roll-out across its entire network, due to doubts in keeping the students' email and content secure and private.

According to InformationWeek which broke the story, some excerpts of this letter offer some revealing and interesting justifiable perspectives from the senior university figure:

[Many faculties] "...expressed concerns that our campus’ commitment to protecting the privacy of their communications is not demonstrated by Google and that the appropriate safeguards are neither in place at this time nor planned for in the near future"

[This move by the university] "...by and large, it's not typical of what we're seeing in the market. We're seeing lots of schools move their students and faculty onto Gmail" .

In regards to the concerns over passing on or examining the contents of emails without the students' permission - which Gmail does to provide relevant advertisements.

"Outsourcing e-mail may not be in compliance with the University of California Electronic Communications Policy."

"Though there are different interpretations of these sections, the mere emergence of significant disagreement on these points undermines confidence in whether adopting Google's Gmail service would be consistent with the [aforementioned] policy".

[We continue to search for] ..."a more flexible and effective central e-mail system."

I half-criticised Microsoft a few months back for not embracing a similar social application to rival Google Buzz, which comes as part of the consumer Gmail experience. Yet with hindsight and especially in light of this new story and others, Buzz is a minefield for privacy related issues and this no doubt contributes to the reasons as to why the enterprise would want to avoid such issues.

Buzz was not part of the pilot which the university had rolled out, which Neowin had entirely misreported. The letter sent by the university CIO referenced a separate letter from the privacy commissioners from nearly a dozen countries which criticised Buzz, this was used merely as an example.

I think more than anything, trashy and poor reporting was more a clear outcome to this news story than Buzz being a contributing factor to the university's decision to cease the pilot.

Microsoft's equivalent service, Live@edu, which includes many of the features Hotmail currently has while integrating it as a university email and productivity account, is shooting ahead of Google in the outsourced email race.

While in this case, privacy appears to be a major factor taken into account by the university, as many institutions around the world are considered 'Microsoft campuses' with existing contracts and technologies in place, many are opting for Live@edu instead of Google Apps.

Will this move force other enterprise customers into adopting rival services such as Microsoft's Live@edu?

Topics: Cloud, Browser, Collaboration, Google

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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