March 18, 2009, 5:11 PM — I've been asked by a client to use Google Docs as a way to share files, and it seems like a good idea--an easy way to track revisions and updates, and share files between multiple parties. In that respect, it works almost like a wiki, or a very basic content management system.
But just as I'm getting ready to go with it, I hear the news that the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a complaint with the FTC about Google's security standards for the company's SaaS applications, including Gmail, Google Docs, Google Desktop, Picasa Web Albums and Google Calendar. The group's biggest complaint is Google's failure to encrypt information held on its servers. Google does however, impose security measures, and notes on the landing page of Google Docs that "files are stored securely online." I have no doubt there are some security protocols in place, and there are authentication techniques for users. All the same, I wouldn't use it for military secrets--but for routine work, I have no problem with it. Nobody in their right mind uses Gmail, or any other free webmail, for sensitive email (except for a few clueless politicians).
EPIC's filing asks the FTC to "review" Google's privacy safeguards, require Google to disclose incidents of data loss, and forbid Google from offering any cloud-based services until safeguards are "verifiably established." The first two are logical and reasonable, the latter is completely impractical, since Google Docs and other software-as-a-service programs offered by the company are already in widespread use. Not to mention, resellers who are already engaged in selling the corporate versions of the cloud programs would be thrown into a terrible disarray if the FTC put the kibosh on existing services. If the group has their way, millions of users would be unable to access their Gmail accounts, or any of the other cloud applications currently being offered by Google. There are plenty of other companies offering cloud-based services, including Microsoft--and this sort of delay could put Google out of the cloud business for good. The request to put Google temporarily out of the cloud business is a longshot though. EPIC is merely following standard legal procedure of "ask for way more than you think you can really get."
EPIC also requests that the FTC fine Google $5 million to be put into a public fund, not surprisingly, for the benefit of groups like EPIC. Seems like a money-grab to me.