Thursday, November 8, 2007

University counsel warning on Google Apps and Microsoft Office Live

I received the following "anonymous" message forwarded in an email today. It has the classic feel of an Internet hoax. Having received several anonymous comments to this blog in the past, I've learned to be immediately suspicious of anything that doesn't identify a source. Doesn't everyone know that transparency is the new black?

I did some searches on key phrases in the document and came up blank. So dear readers, anyone know the origins of this document? Inquiring minds would like to understand the writer's true motives.

To: Deans, Directors, Chairs

From: ... Vice Provost, Libraries, Computing and Technology
... Assistant Vice President for Finance, CFO and Controller
... Associate Provost for Academic Services
... Assistant Vice President for Research and
Graduate Studies and Executive Director, *** Technologies

Subject: Avoiding use of online software tools such as Google Apps, Gmail, and Microsoft Office Live

Please share this message with faculty and staff in your units.

Google, Microsoft, and other companies are offering, at no charge, an increasingly diverse set of online, web-based software tools, many of which provide standard "office" functions such as document and slide deck production and management, spreadsheeting and communications, including e-mail. These tools run on company (vendor) servers, and user files and other content are stored on company systems as well. The no-cost option is attractive to many University units, faculty and staff. However, due to the terms of use and business models being applied to these tools, they MAY NOT be used in the conduct of University work.

To illustrate one concern, the terms to which you agree when you use Google Apps ( include the following; which compromises the University's intellectual property rights and the security of University records:

"You [user] retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. BY SUBMITTING, POSTING OR DISPLAYING THE CONTENT YOU GIVE GOOGLE A PERPETUAL, IRREVOCABLE, WORLDWIDE, ROYALTY-FREE, AND NON-EXCLUSIVE LICENSE TO REPRODUCE, ADAPT, MODIFY, TRANSLATE, PUBLISH, PUBLICLY PERFORM, PUBLICLY DISPLAY AND DISTRIBUTE ANY CONTENT WHICH YOU SUBMIT, POST OR DISPLAY ON OR THROUGH, THE SERVICES. ... You agree that this license INCLUDES A RIGHT FOR GOOGLE TO MAKE SUCH CONTENT AVAILABLE TO OTHER COMPANIES, ORGANIZATIONS OR INDIVIDUALS WITH WHOM GOOGLE HAS RELATIONSHIPS for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services." (emphasis added)

Furthermore, neither Google nor Microsoft makes any promise to back up content, secure confidential or proprietary content, or provide free service for any particular period of time. If they change their minds about the business utility of this model, it may simply go away one day.

Contract terms like these do not provide appropriate protection for University business records or documents. If software tools like these are used in instruction, they may compromise student intellectual property protections. They may also adversely affect commercialization or publication of intellectual property created by faculty. Because individuals frequently do not know that they are creating University business records, including student records, in the course of doing their daily work at ***, ANY use of these sorts of online tools must be avoided.

Individuals or units contemplating use of any software tool or online service should carefully read and consider the terms of use, and seek appropriate legal or other review from University administrative offices when terms of use are incompatible with University policy or exceed the relevant administrator's authority.


Anonymous said...

Its in the general terms of service for having a google account...

Kevin Gamble said...

Thank you for your comment anonymous...

I read the TOS that you referenced earlier tonight. Where what is in the message in regard to the TOS is mostly accurate, it makes some creative use of ellipses to exclude some pretty relevant text. Unethical snips, IMO.

I'm waiting to be convinced that this was written by a university administrator as it pretends.

someone at MSU said...

This email is real and was sent to deans and chairs at Michigan State University. You can find a record of this email at this website

And there is more... Here is another document that speaks to "Avoiding On-line Software Tools such as Google Apps"

I wish this were a hoax but it isn't.

Kevin said...

That is really sad.

Makes me glad I don't work at MSU.