Back to top

CAUT Bulletin Archives

January 2016

Q&A Forum

D.O. from Montreal writes:

My institution is planning to move faculty email and computing services to Google Apps. I’ve heard CAUT has some concerns about this. Why?

David Robinson, CAUT executive director, answers:

Several universities and colleges have outsourced their IT systems to cloud-based services like Google and Microsoft 365. For staff and students, this means their email, records, and data are moved from a local on-campus server to be processed and stored on a remote server that is often located outside of Canada.

CAUT has been opposed to the outsourcing of IT services because of privacy and academic freedom concerns. Contracts signed with cloud providers often give them the right to collect, “data mine,” and store users’ data for secondary commercial purposes.

Consequently, cloud computing provides no protection of privacy. This is particularly important for academic staff who are conducting sensitive research with human subjects. If you are forced to use cloud-based services to store your records, you simply cannot guarantee confidentiality of your research subjects.

Also, because your data may be processed and stored in another jurisdiction or by a company based in another country, different levels of privacy protection and laws will prevail. For instance, American surveillance and law enforcement agencies can demand access to email and other records stored in any US-based corporation’s servers. Your email — including the content, transaction data, attachments and all linked information — becomes subject to American law and surveillance.

It’s important to remember as well that data stored in the “cloud” is vulnerable, and often more so than that stored in on-site servers. Cloud providers have been targeted and breached by hackers, as was the case with the iPhone scandal where celebrities’ private photos were accessed and distributed. In other instances, sensitive data has inadvertently been released as a result of users accessing the service through insecure personal mobile applications.

If your university or college is contemplating outsourcing its IT system to a cloud provider, talk to your academic staff association. CAUT can provide additional resources and advice.

Academic Advisor offers advice about your rights at work. To send in a question, write to Please include a daytime telephone number.