Saturday, May 24, 2008

Go to Michigan State for a Stone-Age Education

I was recently forwarded a link to a directive issued last November by Michigan State University telling all faculty that they must "Avoiding use of online software tools such as Google Apps, Gmail, and Microsoft Office Live". In their Q&A on the MSU faculty website they go further to say that all faculty must discontinue any use of online software of any sort, including personal email accounts and collaborative accounts on Google or Yahoo that may be used if the faculty member works at other universities. This edict effectively says you cannot use online software services in your professional or personal lives, period.

I've run into people who work in technology but don't understand technology progress and the creative destruction life cycle before and I certainly have seen when lawyers run a muck in an organization. This seems to be a case of the later, the main complaint is the End User License Agreement (EULA) presented by Google that states that they have the perpetual right to use and store what you post in Gmail or Google Docs. While this on the surface will cause most lawyers to spontaneously convulse, a bit of context should be considered before reacting. The reason Google wants to store and share information you have uploaded is to sell advertisement. Nobody at Google (as far as I know) is stupid enough to want to sell your personal or business documents to the highest bidder. On the contrary, Google has been one of the stanchest protectors of it's users data. Google is simply sharing keywords associated with your page to their ad serving engines and the third party involved is the advertiser who posts ads associated with those keywords. If I'm an advertiser and my ad shows up on your personal Gmail in box page, that doesn't mean I can read your email.

This sort of thinking is the 21st century equivalent of outlawing automobiles for fear of the impact on horse sales. Software as a Service is here to stay. Cloud computing is not going away. The MSU stance on using online software services is exactly the wrong approach. All software services are not equal, all EULAs are not the same. Educate your faculty (ironic to tell a university to educate isn't it?) on safe practices. Participating in the process at least assures you have a voice. The MSU policy sounds like Jim Jones headed to Guyana. Watch out for cool-aid everyone.

With 46,000 students and 4,800 faculty (gather from wikipedia, another "bad" website) MSU probably has tens of thousands of policy violators right now. Wake up MSU! The genie is out of the bottle already. As a parent of a high school student I can say that MSU just made the stone-age college list. My daughter and my money are definitely not going there.


Mike said...

Thanks for this

Markus said...

Good Job !:)

Botchagalupe said...

I did a podcast last year with a senior CS student from Dupaul University. I had met the student at a Drupal meetup in Chicago. The student told me that his sr adviser professor knew he was active in Linux and Open Source and the professor told him it was time to stop fooling around with those toys. The professor's advice was to drop Linix/Open stuff and start getting serious with Microsoft software ... like the rest of his students. I had a really hard time trying to convince the student that his professor was DEAD WRONG...

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