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Google using 'double talk' on cloud security, says L.A. consumer group

Jaikumar Vijayan | Oct. 15, 2009
Consumer group's letter represents the latest effort to get the city of L.A to change its mind about a US$7.25 million plan to replace its Novell GroupWise e-mail and Microsoft Office applications with Google Apps.

FRAMINGHAM, 15 OCTOBER 2009 - A consumer advocacy group that is opposed to a plan by the city of Los Angeles to adopt Google's hosted e-mail and office applications is accusing the company of a double standard on security issues.

In a letter to Bernard Parks, chairman of the Los Angeles City Council's Budget and Finance Committee, Consumer Watchdog claimed that Google was being hypocritical in marketing Google Apps to the city.

The letter, by Consumer Watchdog advocate John Simpson, faulted Google for "blandly assuring" customers about the security of its cloud-based services while at the same time warning of multiple security risks in federally required 10-Q financial statements.

"Google says one thing when trying to sell its products, but something else in federally required filings aimed at shareholders," Simpson said in the letter.

A Google spokesman said in e-mail that Consumer Watchdog was more interested in "generating headlines and taking sides in a contract bidding process than in taking a fair and reasonable look at cloud computing."

In a "fact check" note Google has been circulating to L.A. council officials, the company also downplayed Consumer Watchdog's claims and said the group was being paid to target Google specifically.

In the note, Google said that the risk factors it had mentioned in the financial report were similar to that made by others. As an example it showed Microsoft's risk statements, which were nearly identical to the comments made by Google and that Consumer Watchdog had highlighted.

Simpson's letter represents the latest effort to get the city of L.A to change its mind about a US$7.25 million plan to replace its Novell GroupWise e-mail and Microsoft Office applications with Google Apps.

Under the plan, the city would transition about 30,000 users to Google's cloud-based e-mail and office productivity products. Originally, the migration was supposed to happen by the end of December 2009 but the deadline has now been pushed back to the middle of next year.

City officials have said that they expect the move will save Los Angeles more than $13 million in software licensing and manpower costs over the next five years. If approved, Los Angeles will become the second major city, after Washington, D.C., to migrate its applications to Google's cloud services.

Critics of the planned move have questioned the projected cost benefits and have expressed concern about the security and privacy implications of having the city's office and e-mail applications hosted in the cloud.

Among those who have publicly voiced such concerns are the Los Angeles Police Department, the city attorney's office and some public interest groups, including Consumer Watchdog.

Google has downplayed the concerns. It has argued that most of the criticisms of its service have stemmed from an incomplete understanding of the project, and of cloud computing in general.

 

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