Google's lawsuit: bigger target is security seal of approval from feds

By suing the federal government over a $50 million Department of Interior contract, Google is forcing feds to give Google Apps a true competitive look and, hopefully, put it on equal footing with Microsoft when it comes to security.
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive on

Google's lawsuit against the federal government, filed late last week over a $50 million Department of Interior contract, has very little to do with the contract itself.

Instead, this is one of those backed-into-a-corner moves, albeit a strategic one that could play well into Google's larger mission of growing Apps.

On the surface, Google appears to be hauling the government into court, crying foul over language in a Department of Interior Request for Quotation (RFQ) that specifically requires Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) Federal suite in order to be considered for the contract.

Armed with the Competition in Contracting Act of 1984 (CCA) in-hand, the company is asking the court to halt the Department of Interior's bidding process until a "competitive procurement" is conducted.

Also: Full text of complaint embedded on Techdirt.com

But more importantly, Google is taking a stand in defense of its Google Apps suite.  By asking the court to force the Department of the Interior to give the options competitive consideration, Google is forcing the Microsoft vs. Google security debate into a government testing ground. At the end of that testing period, Google either needs to win the bid or lose it to Microsoft for a reason other than security issues - maybe the costs of integration or something else that suggests that the offerings were more or less equal.

If it's secure enough for the government, then it's certainly secure enough for a big corporation, right? That's got to be the message that Google wants to emerge when all of the legal dust settles.

After all, the company is pretty solid on other fronts. In July, Google announced Google Apps for Government, an enhanced offering intended to address security concerns specific to government agencies. It also announced that it had received FISMA (Federal Information Security Management Act) certification, which allows it to store sensitive, yet unclassified, information, which makes up about 80 percent of all government data.

In the suit, Google points to its FISMA certification and questions the independent research that the government conducted over the Microsoft BPOS-Federal offering. It notes

  • There is very little to no publicly-available information about the Microsoft BPOS solution other than a Microsoft press release on its website.
  • The BPOS-Federal solution is a new product and there are no publicly-identified customers who have either purchased or implemented it, nor are there any case studies reported of any customer using it.
  • The BPOS-Federal solution has not been FISMA certified.

This is not the first time that Google has been irked by language in a government bid request that favored Microsoft. In August, Google decided against submitting a bid for the state of California's e-mail contract because it said that the language was vendor-specific to Microsoft products. Without a bid from Google for the state to consider, let alone reject, it eventually went with a Microsoft offering.

I'm not saying that Google, despite its efforts to create a super-secure government cloud for sensitive data, is offering something better than Microsoft or vice-versa. But if anyone is going to put these two systems to the ultimate test from a security perspective, it only makes sense that the federal government be the one to tackle it first.

Hopefully, this will all end with an understanding of the security issues - if any - that are big enough to keep a government agency from pursuing Google. Certainly, Microsoft's offerings must have a security issue or two that could be of concern.

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