Use Gmail, Go to Jail?

Fans of the classic Animal Farm may remember the scene where the ruling pigs are caught secretly revising the Commandments of Animalism painted on the barn wall. (Or maybe not -- does anyone read Orwell any more?)

Google may soon be doing painting over its own "Don't be evil" commandment -- or at the very least adding a few key qualifications and amendments.

The latest example: Google has been ordered to turn over the IP address of a Gmail user in The Netherlands who allegedly used his account for corporate espionage. Per The Register:

The CEO of Dutch internet incubator company iMerge suspected that a former disgruntled employee, who also acted as a system administrator, had secretly created an auto-forward rule in one of the company's mail servers. Several mails, including business conversations and a romantic discourse which led to a divorce, were forwarded to a Gmail address.

As I've written for CW's sister pub, Infoworld.com, disgruntled IT employees are a growing threat to enterprises (just as enterprises are no picnic for overworked and underappreciated IT drones). They can do enormous damage very easily. So I'm not condoning the actions of the employee behind the account "alfaiscool2002@gmail.com."

And Google did initially fight the request until ordered by the court. But once the legal hammer came down, Google rolled over -- just as it has in similar cases in Israel and India.

I have a couple of problems with this story.

Problem #1. If you're an IT guy trying to screw over your employer, shouldn't you know better than to use Gmail? I mean, why not just tattoo "saboteur" on your forehead and be done with it?

Problem #2: The ginormous cache of data Google stores about each of its users, due both to the breadth of its services and Google's insatiable appetite for data. It's like one-stop shopping for corporate counsel, divorce attorneys, repressive governments, and any other clown with a subpoena and the lawyers to back it up. If you value your privacy, Google is not a company you want to do business with, regardless of what the company says on its blog.

Because if all pigs are created equal, some pigs are definitely more equal than others. And Google is the Boss Hog on this farm.

(This article originally appeared as a blog for Computerworld)

This story, "Use Gmail, Go to Jail?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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