UC-Davis Shuns Gmail over Google Buzz Privacy Gaffe

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-05-06 Print this article Print

What one week bringeth, the next taketh away.

One week after Google proudly said Oregon's entire public school system jumped aboard the Google Apps train for Web-based e-mail and documents, InformationWeek reported that the University of California-Davis has "ended its evaluation of Gmail as the official e-mail program for its 30,000 faculty and staff members."

Now if this were Microsoft, it wouldn't be such a big deal. But this is Google, which is in an uphill battle to take collaboration market share from incumbents like Microsoft and IBM.

Moreover, Google is the original, major cloud computing collaboration player, so it is at the vanguard of the shift to the cloud. Any company, school or organization that turns up its nose at Gmail, the cornerstone of Google Apps, merits some attention.

UC-Davis officials told Google in a letter:

"[Many faculty] expressed concerns that our campus's commitment to protecting the privacy of their communications is not demonstrated by Google and that the appropriate safeguards are neither in place at this time nor planned for in the near future."

That is such an odd statement, particularly when 3,000-plus schools, including all of Oregon, have gone Google.

Update: It's also odd because, as a Google spokesperson informed me, 30,000+ UC-Davis students are already using Google Apps, with seemingly no plans to switch.

Here's the kicker, and something that may continue to kick Google Apps in the pants for a while: UC-Davis pointed to Google's recent Google Buzz privacy mishap as the reason it questions Google's ability to preserve its students' and faculty members' data.

Google Buzz sits atop Gmail, leveraging users' social contacts within that app. Unfortunately, Google initially launched this service to be auto-follow, shredding user privacy before changing it to auto-suggest.

UC-Davis officials cited the recent letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt from the privacy commissioners of 10 countries, who blasted Google for its mishandling of Google Buzz.

That comes even though Buzz is not part of the Gmail program being mulled by UC-Davis, and after Yale University postponed its move to Google Apps. Buzz doesn't seem to be the reason there so much as school politics and confusion.

Be that as it may, there are two things we need to consider. First, this is the first time a school has publicly abandoned Gmail over Buzz, which again isn't even technically part of the Gmail offering under Google Apps Education Edition.

Second, we need to see if this is a hypersensitive precaution taken by a maverick school or if it's the start of a trend.

Microsoft Office 2010 is coming up next week as a cloud collaboration suite, and we can't simply ignore Microsoft's enterprise cachet because Google has been pushing the cloud forever and a day.

The last thing Google needs right now is organizations choosing Office 2010 because of the Buzz privacy issue. If Office 2010 supplants Google Apps in many shops, it's game over for Google's aspirations to expand its cloud computing empire.

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