Google’s Sad Saga In L.A. Draws To A Close

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Google's sad saga of missed deadlines and unfulfilled promises in attempting to provide the City of Los Angeles with a "cloud" based email and collaboration system appears to be drawing to a close.

City Council is expected on Wednesday to approve amendments to its contract with CSC and Google that acknowledge the reality that Google, despite promises two years ago, cannot meet the security requirements of the 13,000 Los Angeles Police Department and other city law enforcement employees.

Cloud computing, by the way, is where the software and much of the data resides on the provider's servers and not on the user's computer and is accessed via the Internet. Consumer Watchdog is just one of many who are concerned about the security of data in the cloud. We expressed doubts about Google's solution for L.A. when it was announced.

CSC is the contractor implementing the Google "cloud" system.  A report to Council from Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry F. Miller and City Administrative Office Miguel Santana, which recommends the new deal notes:

"Although CSC does not have the technical ability to comply with the City's security requirements, it should be noted that the DOJ requirements are not currently compatible with cloud computing."

Well, duh.  Wouldn't you have thought someone would have figured this out before the project started?

I think the problem was that Google's data-driven computer geek culture got in the way.  Google executives choose to see the world as they think it should be, not as it is.  To them DOJ security requirements are more than  they deem necessary. So Google, in their minds, ought not to have to meet them.

I for one am glad the LAPD stuck by its guns. Here are the key elements of the deal Council is expected to approve:

— Los Angeles pays for the 17,000 users actually on Google's cloud according to the reduced rate per seat it would qualify for if it had 30,000 users.

— Google pays the city for the Groupwise licenses and expenses required for 13,000 law enforcement employees to use the old system through the term of the contract (November 2012) and any extensions.  Google's obligation is caped at $350,000 annually. Actual payment now is about $250,000 a year.

— CSC had given the city $250,000 as incentive for Los Angeles to encourage other governments to adopt Google.  CSC will not seek reimbursement for that.

Frankly, I'd forgotten the city got financial incentives — let's be accurate, a kickback —  to tout Google to other municipalities.  Now that city officials know the city won't lose a quarter of million dollars for candor, perhaps they'll honestly tell the world about Google's failure.

At the least they must demand that this misleading video be removed from the Google Apps for Government Website.  By no stretch of the imagination was Los Angeles  a success for Google.  And now, Los Angeles officials have an obligation to make that fact clear to the world.

And folks in other jurisdictions considering Google solutions should pay close attention to the Los Angeles experience.  Are you listening Chicago Board of Education?

John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson is an American consumer rights advocate and former journalist. Since 2005, he has worked for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group, as the lead researcher on Inside Google, the group's effort to educate the public about Google's dominance over the internet and the need for greater online privacy.

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