[iDC] cloud computing and the university

Nicholas Knouf nak44 at cornell.edu
Fri Jun 11 15:20:37 UTC 2010

Thanks for posting this.  Cornell did the same last year, although they
kept around an internal system for use by faculty and grad students (who
went through a process of signing up for it).  I sent similar things
around to the IT department as well as to fellow grad students, but
being in an information science program, where many of the students do
internships at Google, it mostly fell on deaf ears (with the exception
of the former lawyer who had severe concerns about the transition's

What I was never able to get a satisfactory response to was how the
agreement between Cornell and Google functioned under a) FERPA and b)
HIPAA.  For the first they basically said "trust us" (meaning: we won't
let you actually look at the agreement that we signed with Google), and
for the second, they said talk to the IRB.  HIPAA is a problem because
you can't send private health information outside of one institution
without getting separate consent from the participant.  So is Google
considered a separate institution?  They couldn't tell me.  (This is a
big deal, because when I was working within neuroimaging in the early
2000s in Boston, basically Harvard, MIT, and Mass General become one big
"institution" as far as HIPAA goes because of all the complexities
involved in dealing with receiving permission otherwise.  Research data
literally does flow from one institution to another quite freely, making
any determination of boundary almost impossible.)

What was more troubling for me was the decision recently to outsource
our _library_ searches to Worldcat.  I've written briefly about that
before here, but basically this means that every library search you make
at Cornell is sent in plaintext to an external provider, Worldcat.
While Cornell could tell me about their strict data retention policies
with respect to searches, they couldn't tell me what Worldcat's policies
were.  And if you take a quick inspection of Worldcat's pages you can
see the extent to which they use site analytics software; most prominent
is "Site Catalyst" which is put out by a company called Omniture
(http://www.omniture.com ) with a tagline of "The Leader in Online
Business Optimization".  Now, I ask, what does this have to do with
library searches?!?  Haven't we learned anything from the fight over
library information and the Patriot Act?  I guess not.

Additionally, I noticed that the default Worldcat search on the Cornell
libraries website removed the option to do faceted search by default
(meaning by title, author, etc.).  Looking around on some librarian
weblogs I discovered that this is because they grudgingly have observed
that students only know how to search when one box and one button is
presented to them...as on Google.  Give them an option to dial down
immediately, and they don't know how to do it.  Take a look at your
library webpages; if you have a single search box with a single search
button, then Google has already infiltrated the structure of that
institution we hold dear.  But more on this shortly...


Ulises Mejias wrote:
> This is related to the topic of education. My school (part of the
> State University of New York) recently decided, like many others
> schools, to take advantage of the 'free' Google Apps for Education. In
> the face of $410 million in budget cuts in the past two years, SUNY
> schools are obviously looking for ways to save money. The following is
> a letter I wrote (and published in our college newspaper) to alert our
> community of some of the implications of the switch to Google.
> Maybe brick and mortar campuses are being replaced with
> open/distributed learning networks, but education still requires
> plenty of *structures,* and it is always interesting to ask how they
> are organized.
> Keep in mind this was written with a general audience in mind.
> -------
> As most of you have heard, our campus is getting ready to migrate our
> email system to Google sometime in the Fall. The move seems like a
> sweet deal: we get not just better functioning email, but a full menu
> of apps including calendaring, document creation and sharing, file
> storage, and chat -- all at no cost! On top of that, the services
> offered through Google Apps for Education come with no adds, 2.5 gigs
> of storage, and you get to keep your oswego.edu email tag, from what I
> hear. What's not to like?
> Well, plenty, if you ask me. But before I share my concerns, let me
> disclose two important facts: One, I myself use certain Google
> products (who doesn't?). Two, I have a lot of respect for the people
> who made the decision to migrate to Google, and I understand the
> reasons why the switch is pretty much inevitable. Thus, this is not an
> attempt to reverse the decision (even if we could afford to), but
> simply to bring more awareness about what life under our Google
> overlords might mean.
> In my Media Economics class, we discuss the positive and negative
> impacts of having a handful of media corporations control pretty much
> everything we see and hear. It's easy to see the inordinate power that
> companies like News Corp, Disney or Time Warner have on our daily
> lives. But Google is soon going to make those companies look like
> charming mom and pop operations. Google is creating a monoculture
> where people believe Google is all they need. Think about the impact
> of having one company control all the software for your computer and
> your mobile phone, and one company handling all your personal data,
> tracking everything you do through its suite of information and media
> products and keeping the data for up to 18 months.
> What does Google want to do with all that data? Figure out how to
> better direct advertisements to you, of course! Let's not forget that
> Google, a company with a market value of $200 billion, derives 97% of
> its revenue from advertising. The more Google knows about you, the
> better it can target ads at you and make more money -- and Google
> wants to know EVERYTHING about you! This perhaps explains why the
> company has a venture capital arm that is currently investing in
> biotech, genetics, energy, telecom, healthcare, and other things. So
> while switching to GMail doesn't mean that we will start seeing adds
> for Viagra or teeth whitening products next to our Inbox, it does
> probably mean that Google will be scanning our emails and documents in
> an effort to collect more information about us, their users.
> In essence this means that by using Google, all SUNY Oswego community
> members will effectively be working to increase the company's bottom
> line. Now, perhaps I'm fooling myself by thinking that because I
> CHOOSE to use certain Google products, I can exercise some control and
> responsibility. But being forced to use ALL Google products is quite a
> different matter (what's the alternative? not using email at school?).
> And this is another feature of life under oligopolies, that while
> seeming to open up more choices, the arena for choice is actually
> being limited. Furthermore, by using Google we are effectively
> endorsing its corporate policies on privacy, security and intellectual
> property issues. This is problematic at best, for reasons I don't have
> the time to get into right now.
> Yes, plenty of universities have already jumped on the bandwagon and
> saved tons on money. Arizona State is saving $500,000 a year.
> University of Washington laid off 66 IT workers (although that's not
> necessarily a good thing, is it?). But a few schools are having
> serious concerns. The faculty union at Lakehead University, for
> instance, filed a grievance citing concerns about privacy and academic
> freedom. Apparently those cooky Canadians are worried that since
> Google is a US company, it is obligated to hand over any data that the
> US government wants to see, like faculty's emails. You might be
> thinking: "We don't have to worry about that! We are in the US and
> already subject to warrant-less surveillance!" Well, it is Google's
> obligations to OTHER countries that worries Yale University, who
> recently decided to postpone its migration to Google because of
> concerns about cloud computing. You see, in order to have some data
> redundancy, Google stores your personal information randomly in 3 of
> its 450,000 servers located all over the world. So the folks at Yale
> are wondering whether Google is obligated to surrender your data
> according to the laws of THOSE countries. In other words, if my email
> data is stored in Israel or Malaysia, does that give those governments
> the right to monitor it? (of course, even if Google wants to protect
> your data, the fact of the matter is that it is a more alluring target
> for hackers than a small state college, as demonstrated recently when
> some users' GMail accounts were broken into by Chinese hackers).
> [UPDATE: UC Davis also ditched GMail over concerns that it did not
> comply with the University of California Electronic Communications
> Policy, which forbids the university from examining the contents of
> e-mails without the consent of the user.]
> In the end, I suppose Google is no more evil or no less evil than
> Apple, Microsoft, or any other media company. Yes, it is quickly
> becoming a bigger monopoly, and that's probably not good for the
> public OR for the market. But what troubles me more about our
> migration to Google is what it says about the increasing privatization
> of education, and our failure to support and fund the public
> university. Maybe it's naive to think that public education can remain
> free of for-profit interests. But it will certainly be more difficult
> to maintain that separation now that we will all be working for
> Google.
> Ulises Mejias
> Communication Studies Dept, SUNY Oswego
> http://ulisesmejias.com
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