Further thoughts on email in the cloud

A couple of months ago I wrote about a future Wayne State  email system based in the cloud. At the time we were considering Gmail and Microsoft’s Office 365. Since then we’ve pretty much settled on the Microsoft offering, although no formal decision has yet been made.

An alarming development at the University of Illinois Chicago about a month ago made many question the value of working with Google–an infected machine on the UIC network caused Google to block them from sending any email from UIC. This is something that occasionally happens (every now and then AOL or someone like that blocks Wayne State email for a day or so). What was alarming was that it took Google almost two weeks to unblock UIC’s mail, mostly because they were unable to get hold of anyone at Google. That certainly didn’t help Google’s reputation among universities.

Even more interesting is the fact that Google normally uses their customers’ data to tailor ads. You may have noticed that ads in your Gmail account sometimes reflect something you searched for in Google earlier in the week. This is not a coincidence–Google admits that they do this. When universities contracted with Google to use Gmail, they agreed to Google mining the email to target ads, even if the ads didn’t show up in the university-based email accounts.

Yesterday Google announced that they would no longer mine academic Gmail accounts. Apparently the drumbeat of the privacy advocates got a little too loud for them. I’ll be attending an academic computing privacy conference in DC next week–no doubt that will be one of the topics of conversation.