Google Education today announced an agreement with JANET - the organisation that provides networking services to the UK education sector - to work from a standardised framework contract when supplying Google Apps for Education.
JANET, which is part of the Jisc group educational charity, has said that it sees a distinct advantage for educational institutions that "did not have the time nor resources to explore and understand contractual complexities of cloud security, data and protection".
The education body's CEO, Tim Marshall, urged educators to be "in bed with" the web services giant.
Liz Sproat, head of education for EMEA at Google, said Tuesday, at the company's unveiling of the deal at its London offices, that the agreement should allow educators to "move forward with confidence".
A representative of a London higher education institution told Computing that they were "impressed" with the collaboration, and said they felt, as a current Google Apps for Education customer, that the framework would make signing a new contract "significantly easier".
Potential benefits to universities include saving time and money on hiring lawyers to check the small print on matters such as data privacy.
Bearing in mind Google's chequered past in terms of data privacy, having been accused - and taken to court - on matters ranging from Google Mail ad-skimming to SEO-fixing in search results, Computing asked the University of Sheffield's CIO, Christine Sexton, whether the new agreement now meant Google could be trusted.
"We do. And our contract is already pretty watertight with them," said Sexton.
"To be honest, I think there are some parts of the press that like to Google-bash a bit. I'd say that when there was a lot [of US Patriot Act protocol] being talked about a few years ago, Google was very open about saying, ‘We don't know where your data's stored; we know it's fragmented all over the place. We're not denying it's not going out of Europe, but we will guarantee it's stored under the following contractual obligations, safe harbour etc. I actually asked the ICO about it and they said ‘Yes, of course we are'," said Sexton.
While Google promises not to share or use any data it holds on its Apps for Education customers with third parties, or use it for any kind of marketing, the question of what Google has to gain from its 25 million users is still up for debate. Sexton believes the company simply wants "exposure".
"In Sheffield, they get 25,000 students who are all going to graduate and go off into the big wide world and get jobs," Sexton told Computing.
"And I imagine Google hopes they will either stick with using Google Apps personally - and by then it won't be free - or they'll go into an enterprise and ask ‘Why haven't you got Google apps - it's brilliant'."
JANET CEO Tim Marshall described how, in the past, there was "an incredible reticence of the partnership that exists between education and the commercial world".
"There was an element of suspicion, lack of trust and, at its very worst, a thought from the commercial sector that we were the great unwashed, and they should just screw as much out of us as they can."
Marshall said that he'd long "had a vision for a day like this", and said he believed the collaboration between Google and JANET would make passage to the cloud safer, especially for those who had their doubts and were holding back.
"It could be more risky to stay where you are; staying in-house could be riskier," he said, asking educators: "[Google] is an innovative company. Don't you want to be in bed with them?"