April 25, 2013
New Delhi, India
AICTE, according to a notification available on its website (pdf), has taken a decision to partner with Microsoft to offer cloud email offering and Microsoft Office 365 for all its affiliated institutions. SFLC.IN opposes this decision of AICTE for the following reasons:
- AICTE’s decision is contrary to the National Information Technology Policy 2012, which explicitly seeks to promote open standards and promote open source and open technologies. Even the Government’s own Policy on Open Standards for e-Governance explicitly seeks to promote Royalty Free open standards. The decision of the AICTE results in tying up the institutions and students to proprietary technologies and products.
- AICTE should have defined the technology standards and requirements and asked partner institutions to implement them using open source software. The choice of technologies and exact method of implementation should have been left open to the institutions.
- The benefits of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) over the products offered by Microsoft have not been taken into account by AICTE while taking this decision. By making proprietary software mandatory, the student community is deprived of choices and learning opportunities. FOSS gives them the freedom to tinker with the software thus giving them the ability to innovate and learn. The ability to modify the software is particularly important in a country like ours which has many languages and scripts in use.
- The decision of AICTE results in vendor lock-in with the institutions and students left with little choice but to stick on to the proprietary software as the data is stored in a proprietary format. This could result in the vendor enjoying a monopoly position in future with no scope for competition from other vendors offering similar software, although offered at price zero currently. This will enable them to quote any price in the future when the current contract ends.
- ‘Choice and Consent’ is one of the National Privacy Principles which were laid down in the “Report of the Group of Experts on Privacy” chaired by Justice A. P. Shah. ‘Choice and consent’ means that each person must be allowed to opt-in/opt-out from giving information to the data controller. In the partnership of AICTE with Microsoft on Live@Edu, all colleges and students have to mandatorily use Live@edu without being offered any alternatives. Colleges, educators and students have not been given enough information to help them make an informed choice and consent to sharing of their data with Microsoft. Even those colleges and students which have not consented to the use and storage of their data by Microsoft still have to use Live@edu.
- Another National Privacy Principle laid down in the above report is accountability. This means that the data controller must be accountable for complying with privacy measures. We are not aware of Microsoft’s accountability in keeping the data safe and secure. In case the data gets leaked, then the extent of Microsoft’s liability is also not known.
- It is not made clear as to whether the data will be used for purposes other than that for which it is collected. There is also no clarity on what happens to the data after the end of the contract period or when a student leaves the institution
- As Office 365 is an online suite, the students would need to be connected to the internet permanently to use it. As per the provisional report on “All India Survey on Higher Education 2010 – 2011” published by Ministry of Human Resource Development, 36 % of Universities, 48% of Colleges and 56% of stand alone institutions are located in rural areas. While this will include a number of colleges and universities which are affiliated to AICTE, the exact figures are not known. The lack of internet connectivity and internet penetration in rural areas presents a formidable challenge to being connected to the internet continuously.
- One of the biggest benefits highlighted by this alliance is the availability of Microsoft Office at zero licensing cost without paying any heed to the fact that files created by Microsoft Office are not created in OpenDocument format leaving users at Microsoft’s mercy, and with a string of incompatible documents. It is critical that documents are stored in a format that can be read across platforms and for years to come.
- The Program overview of the Live@Edu solution available on the AICTE website also reveals features like cross-mailbox search and monitoring of student activity. This demonstrates the issues related to security and privacy of the offering. As per the Program overview, there will be creation of “bad word” supervision policy that will help filter emails containing objectionable material.
SFLC.IN is a donor supported legal services organisation that brings together lawyers, policy analysts, technologists, and students to protect freedom in the digital world. SFLC.IN promotes innovation and open access to knowledge by helping developers make great Free and Open Source Software, protect privacy and civil liberties for citizens in the digital world by educating and providing free legal advice and help policy makers make informed and just decisions with the use and adoption of technology.
To learn more about why this partnership is wrong and what alternatives are available, please contact:
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