Editorial: Google Apps transition flawed

Opinion by Editorial Board
April 25, 2012, 12:12 a.m.

On April 17, certain Stanford undergraduates were offered the opportunity to be among the first to transition their University IT services – email, calendar, contacts, etc. – to Google Apps. By July 13, the current Zimbra service will be retired, to be wholly replaced by Google’s offering. The history of this transition is somewhat ironic. Yahoo’s Zimbra itself supplanted Oracle Webmail in 2008, beating out bids from Microsoft’s Outlook / Exchange and Google’s Gmail for the Stanford contract. Four years later, Gmail has emerged victorious.

Like any transition, we do not expect the change to be seamless. Any students or staff who access their Stanford email through an email client – on a smartphone or desktop application like Thunderbird or Alpine – will need to manually reconfigure their settings. Likewise, any filters or email signatures set up in Zimbra will need to be manually reimplemented in Gmail. These one-time costs are to be expected with any IT transition of this magnitude, and Google Apps will likely deliver tangible benefits for the University. Google’s vast infrastructure will offer better uptime while reducing costs; Vanderbilt University reportedly saved $750,000 in its transition to Google Apps.

However, other aspects of the transition are troubling. As currently published, after a user enables and first logs into her Google Apps account, she is presented with a Google-branded page with a large, boldfaced “I accept. Continue to my account” button next to a diminutive “cancel” button. This “I accept” button binds the user to Google’s terms of service and privacy policy for “Additional Services,” such as Google Search, that fall outside the scope of Stanford’s agreement.

If a user finds these terms distasteful, she must know in advance to click “cancel” and file a HelpSU ticket just to migrate her account. These directions were buried in a lengthy email to students and staff and they appear nowhere on the page, meaning most users will just blindly click through. The specific terms of service and privacy policy are the oft-criticized agreements released this March. The new policy allows Google to share user data across more than 60 of Google’s services, making it impossible for users to control how their data is used amongst unrelated products in Google’s vast universe of online services. Stanford’s agreement with Google only covers core services like Gmail and Calendar; Google’s regular consumer agreements cover the rest of the services provided to users, and the signup page actively encourages users to sign a momentous agreement without understanding the implications of the agreement.

Essentially, the design of the migration process encourages users to agree to a set of contentious terms with Google that have nothing to do with University email or calendar. And if you don’t like Google’s controversial terms, you’re punished by being denied access to your Stanford email until your HelpSU ticket is processed. This is deceitful and wholly unacceptable for a service as critical as official University email. The Editorial Board is disappointed that Stanford IT Services is seemingly disinterested in ensuring respectful business practices by its official partners, and the Board calls upon Stanford to clean up this poorly implemented migration process.

The Stanford Daily Editorial Board comprises Opinions Editors, Columnists, and at least one member of the Stanford Community. The Board's views are reached through research, debate and individual expertise. The Board does not represent the views of the newsroom nor The Stanford Daily as a whole. Current voting members include Chair Nadia Jo '24, Joyce Chen '25, YuQing Jian '25, Jackson Kinsella '27, Alondra Martinez '26 and Sebastian Strawser '26.

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