Will The Patriot Act Cost Google Business?
from the well,-thanks-to-fear-mongering dept
The Globe and Mail is running a somewhat sensationalistic piece about a Canadian university, Lakehead University, that decided to start using Google’s email system to replace its own buggy and frequently crashed offering. The problem? Fears concerning US data privacy laws, such as the Patriot Act, mean that professors are told not to send confidential info, including grades, via email. This has upset a number of professors who are protesting the use of Google’s products. There are a few different points that are worth sifting out of this.
First is the question of whether US laws like the Patriot Act, are potentially harming US businesses, as foreign organizations choose not to do business with them due to the implications of those laws. Chances are likely that this is happening quite frequently, even if those fears are totally overblown with respect to reality. Of course, it’s not clear why a company like Google doesn’t just set up local servers in certain countries, like Canada, to deal with local companies — and then consider those out of the reach of US laws and authorities. It would seem like a smart business move.
The second question, though, is whether or not the government is really sniffing through everyone’s email. The article seems to imply that, thanks to the Patriot Act, the feds have open access to Google’s servers. While you can understand the paranoia, that’s a bit overstated. The article says: “Using their new powers under the Patriot Act, U.S. intelligence officials can scan documents, pick out certain words and create profiles of the authors.” That’s not accurate. Or, rather, it’s leaving out huge parts of how this is done. The Patriot Act didn’t just hand all of Google’s info over to the feds so they can create profiles on anyone. I’m not one to defend the Patriot Act, which I think is a terrible piece of legislation, but it does no one any good to make false statements about what it has allowed.
The third question is whether or not Google’s own ad displays next to email is troubling to a university — which is a bogeyman I thought had been killed back around 2004. Given the cost (free) to the university, you’d think they’d understand the tradeoff. The “payment” is the ads. If it’s such a problem, then the university is free to go spend however many millions of dollars on building its own system. Or, perhaps Google can offer up an ad-free version for paranoid universities.