By Doug Miller
I’d like to offer three observations from reviewing my Google Apps privacy terms and what appears to be in effect now. For readers that are not aware, Google offers about 70 consumer products such as Google Search, Picasa, Gmail and YouTube that are covered by a consumer-oriented set of terms. Google also offers 7 of its services (such as Gmail and Google Docs) under the Google Apps program for business, education and government customers. The use of these products is covered by a different terms of service. Business and government customers pay Google an annual per user fee for the use of these products. Education customers can sign up for these apps for free.
Not all Google services are covered by the terms of the Google Apps agreement
The second major consideration that Google Apps customers need to be aware of is if a user leaves the 7 apps that are covered under the Google Apps agreement and use any of the other 60 or so Google services such as Google Search, Google+, YouTube or Picasa, they are no longer covered by the terms of the Google Apps agreement that is in effect for their organization. The user is now covered by a consumer-oriented set of terms that allow for data tracking, advertising and sharing. If your domain administrator has these additional services turned on (which are typically turned on by default), then the user has access to these services using their Google Apps credentials. What many users may not appreciate though is when you use these consumer services, you are now potentially opening the door for your business data to be used by these consumer products. For example, our domain has Google+ enabled. If I use Google+ while logged in as a Google Apps user, Google+ actively mines my confidential emails in Gmail and proposes new contacts that I should consider added into my Google+ circles. Not just users in my private contact database but looking at who I am sending email from and suggesting I add these people to my Google+ circles. I also receive notice that my Android phone is also being mined for potential contacts.
This somehow does not seem appropriate that a consumer social networking tool is mining my private business emails. The only way to opt out of this is to have our domain administrator disable Google+. There is no opt-out of this type of sharing if I want to use Google+ as a business user.
No barrier between business apps and consumer apps
I certainly understand why Google, a company that makes 96% of its revenue from advertising, would want me as a professional user to also use its consumer ad-driven products. What I don’t understand is why there is no clear barrier between Google’s business and consumer products especially given that my business is paying Google for the use of its Google Apps products. Instead I have this seamless experience where my user context is constantly changing leaving me with the question, just how exposed is my business data to exploitation by Google to enhance their services and deliver better ads? I simply don’t know.