Fairfax's dark cloud

The media company's move to Google Apps promises cost savings but also poses a serious risk to how its journalists go about their business.

Last month Google scored a big win in the office software battle with Microsoft when Fairfax Media announced the company would move to the Google Apps suite.

In many respects this choice made sense, with an increasingly decentralised workforce and a business that's under pressure to reduce costs, moving to a cloud based solution offered Fairfax many benefits over Microsoft’s expensive server based products.

At the time of the announcement Andrew Lam-Po-Tang, Fairfax's chief information and technology officer, claimed moving the company's 10,000 workers over to Google Apps would save the company around 40 per cent of its IT costs.

Unfortunately those kind of savings always prove elusive in the IT world and shortly after the announcement Fairfax scaled back their ambitions of moving all their staff to Google Apps. In an interview two weeks later with New Zealand's National Business Review, Andrew Lam-Po-Tang conceded some employees would stay on the Microsoft services as they needed the MS Office functions that Google Apps currently lack.

Word counts or Australian spell checkers are actually pretty minor problems, what Fairfax's journalists are really worried about is that saving confidential data on outsourced services may risk the confidentiality and even safety of their sources.

Courts, governments and plaintiffs around the world have been pushing for stronger powers over cloud computing and social media services. In the UK this manifested itself in the "superinjunction" where aggrieved soccer players, celebrities and even local councils obtained court orders that forbid anyone on the planet from mentioning their legal disputes. 

In the United States the movement was a lot more sinister. An Icelandic MP found her Twitter account had been accessed by US authorities to discover information about Wikileaks.

Australians have been caught up in this, Melbourne online activist Asher Wolf found her Twitter account had been subpoenaed by the Boston District Attorney over comments she'd made about the Occupy Boston demonstrations.

In both cases, Twitter was the only service prepared to fight the requests and divulge to their users that their services had been subpoenaed. The suspicion is that most other popular online services were also targeted.

The worrying thing with these requests is they are served in secret and, apart from the service that the order has been served upon, no-one – least of all the person whose account has been accessed knows their data is being read by government agencies. 

Sources on the cloud

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