If you're Google, is it a good idea to sue the government?

If you're Google, is it a good idea to sue the government?

Summary: Google's taking on the big dogs in a high-profile fight to be at the center of the Internet-as-a-platform for enterprise business.

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Google isn't exactly on solid footing with federal authorities these days, whether they are getting their wrists slapped over Street View embarrassments or struggling to continue with their acquisitions unfettered. So when it comes to to the Department of the Interior's choice to use Microsoft's BPOS instead of Google Apps, one has to wonder if maybe, just maybe, Google should have kept its mouth shut and kept raking in the billions.

Also read Mary Jo Foley's take on the Google-DOI lawsuit:

"Google sues U.S. government over hosted

e-mail bid against Microsoft"

Of course, Google does have a lot at stake here. Not only does the company need to diversify beyond its search business, but if it wants to be all things Internet to all people, then it needs to be at the forefront of software as a service and online productivity.

Given that the Department of the Interior didn't even consider Google Apps in its RFQ and treated Microsoft's competing Business Productivity Online Suite as the a priori sole solution that could meet its security needs, this does set a dangerous precedent. If Google didn't challenge this, the assumption in high security settings (which includes more than a few government agencies worldwide and virtually any company with intellectual property to protect) would be that BPOS was the only viable option and that Google could not compete in this space.

Next: But wait...isn't Google FISMA-certified, while BPOS still isn't? »

Interestingly, Google is the only such solution that is FISMA-certified; BPOS will most likely not achieve this government-backed assurance of data security until sometime in 2011. Which means, of course, that Google has a case here. However, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out,

Google faces a relatively high bar to prove to the court that the DOI acted inappropriately. The agency must only provide a "rational explanation" as to why it wrote the RFQ in such a manner, such as cost considerations, compatibility, or the ease of training users...

Procurement law is painful at best, but it seeks to protect taxpayers from funding solutions that either chosen carelessly or chosen for more nefarious purposes (such as graft or kickbacks). In this case, outward appearances suggest that the DOI simply had a Microsoft ecosystem in place and chose to continue building that out. While this is hardly unreasonable and the $59 million in business is small potatoes for both Google and Microsoft, the idea that Google's Apps are not on equal footing in terms of security or robust tools suitable for any agency is the very antithesis of Google's message around Apps.

As far as Google is concerned, the point should be secure, web-based content creation and collaboration with the Internet as the platform. If the Internet-as-platform isn't good enough for the government , while Microsoft-as-platform is, that's a much bigger loss for Google than a mere $59 million in loose pocket change.

So, with that in mind, should Google have still kept its collective mouth shut? Is it too important to maintain positive ties with the administration that has so far been fairly easy on the company (yes, the AdMob deal took a while to close and upcoming deals will also be placed under the microscope, but the AdMob inquiry still passed through the FTC panel 5-0)? And doesn't Google have a lot to lose if it loses this lawsuit? The answer to each of those questions is probably "Yes."

But this is Google we're talking about and the young, impetuous company also has a lot to lose by letting the DOI set a precedent and send a message to other enterprises that neither the web, nor Google are good enough as computing platforms to meet high-end, large-scale enterprise needs. This isn't about $59 million. It's about the way that we use the Internet to do business and clearly Google wants and needs to be at the center of that.

Topics: Google, Government, Government US

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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22 comments
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  • I was wrong... Goolge is not evil, they're just pathetic

    Google is run by idiots and blowhards. This only exposes their inability to compete with other software companies. Lets face, most of their product are cheap and are just plain inferior to the competition. They would never have to result to this pathetic act (of suing the U.S. govt) if Google can compete on merit. Just like "Do no evil", "Competition is good" rings hollow when utter by Google employees and their fanbois.
    iPad-awan
  • Ah competition...

    Corrupting standards approval procedures, destroying a competitor by illegal leverage of a monopoly position, jacking other people's patented products, blah blah blah etc. It goes on for years.

    Considering Microsoft's ongoing record, it's rich hearing you not complain about them, but whine about Google's doings. Hypocrite, thy name appears to be iPad-awan.
    zkiwi
    • I took issue with his whole post, but decided..

      @zkiwi

      it was so full of rubbish and nonsense that it would be a total waste of my time. :-)
      Economister
  • Depends

    Sometimes individual departmental procurement policies or practices may be at odds with the direction of the government as a whole. If so the suit simply will highlight this fact and bring that department into compliance.<br><br>If the department in question is acting in accordance with general governmental policies, it may still cause the government to review its policies if the suit is built on a sound foundation, in other words that there are better solutions out there than what the government is currently pursuing. I do not think that a "mature" government takes a suit such as this "personally"<br><br>Of course, with the obviously rather petty and selfish attitude on the part of most elected officials and executive branch appointees, all bets are off. Good government may not be on their agenda at all. Maybe they are hoping to be invited to Gates' annual party (if he still has them).
    Economister
    • RE: If you're Google, is it a good idea to sue the government?

      @Economister

      The DOI's argument is baseless. I love the notion that they're maintaining a MS environment because it's what the peons know how to use. BS. 99.9% of them don't have clue. Were talking about a department that was completely hacked and ripped off because their employees merrily plugged in rogue USB flash drives that magically appeared from no where. Government employees can use Google software just as poorly as they use MS software.
      tkejlboom
  • Google is WAY smarter than the government.

    Or anybody, actually. Just ask 'em.
    Userama
  • Well, I think they did it to get everybody's attention about how stupid

    some of the Government IT people are. Obviously Google would be the best choice and has the certification.
    DonnieBoy
    • RE: If you're Google, is it a good idea to sue the government?

      @DonnieBoy Potato Troll again. Google elected NOT to bid in the State of CA b/c they could not meet the requirements. They werent invited to City of NY b/c they don't offer 90% of the software needed, ala OS, deployment tools, heck even a web conferncing solution.
      mcleutz
      • Actually, they met the REQUIREMENTS just fine. The problem was the

        SPECIFICATION. Those two are very distinct.
        DonnieBoy
    • RE: If you're Google, is it a good idea to sue the government?

      @DonnieBoy
      The problem is that DoI says they require a single tenant cloud for their stuff. Google only offers multi-tenant cloud service, MS's BPOS offers single-tenant cloud solution. The services Google offers don't meet the requirements needed by DoI.
      bigsibling
      • Correction, do not meet the requirements SPECIFIED by the DOI.

        NT
        DonnieBoy
      • DB, you don't specify a set of tools

        unless you [b]need[/b] them
        John Zern
    • Or how smart government IT people are

      @DonnieBoy, you're pathetic. Why is it anyone who doesn't agree with Google (or you) are just "stupid people"?
      Has it ever occured to you tht maybe as a collective whole, these people are smarter then you, and Google?

      Well, Google in the sense that they know what they need and are smart enough to see that in this case the Google solution isn't going to cut it?

      Tell them (and us) why Google would be the "best choice", and most here will prove you wrong, again.
      John Zern
  • well that a nice way to make friend

    when your out of option sue them :)
    Quebec-french
    • RE: If you're Google, is it a good idea to sue the government?

      @Quebec-french when you're in America, sue them ;)
      Myoga-
  • Let's not forget who Google is really punishing...

    US citizens. We'll pay for their cry babying in the legal system with our tax dollars. Don't get me wrong, companies need the right to challenge an unjust procurement processes. But when you're doing it for the sole purpose of saving face with nary a leg to stand on, then you're just punishing taxpayers.

    Google: "Do no evil... unless it's convenient"
    ericesque
    • Huh?

      @ericesque

      Care to outline a bit of rationale and evidence for your rant?
      Economister
  • No, suing is bad idea.

    What they should have done is: Come up with a price, which they know would be way less than Microsoft's; then trumpet it from the rooftops, saying "We could have done it for this, and saved you all $X-amount". That way, they might get the public and press on their side...
    peter_erskine
    • Except that...

      "The public" don't care. After all, look how California voted yesterday.
      zkiwi
  • RE: If you're Google, is it a good idea to sue the government?

    Nope, this is going to come back to hurt them tenfold. Google just lost every bidding contract the government could issue. Here's a hint to Google: You build apps that the customer requires, not have a hissy fit about why your apps didn't make the cut.
    Loverock Davidson