April 16, 2010

Privacy Questions About the New "Google Cloud Print" Service

Greetings. Google Labs has just published preliminary specifications (and an associated call for comments and feedback) for a "print anywhere" service that they are implementing, called "Google Cloud Print."

The project has the very laudable goal of reducing OS print stack complexities and enabling the ability for users of the Google Chrome OS (and potentially other systems) to send print jobs to any cooperating printer, anywhere in the world. Google hopes that printer manufacturers (or third parties) will implement supporting protocols in printer firmware, though for now proxy software will be used to bridge between users and hardware.

It is not immediately clear to me from the available documents to what extent this model would ultimately be extended to the Google Chrome browser.

While the goal of "universal printing" is wonderful, there are some tricky non-technical issues that immediately come to mind.

For example, the Google documentation states:

"Google Chrome OS will use Google Cloud Print for all printing. There is no print stack and there are no printer drivers on Google Chrome OS!"

This has two immediate and obvious implications. It would appear that if you don't have an Internet connection at any given time, you would seemingly have no way to print under this model. And perhaps of even greater concern to some individuals and organizations, any document that you wished to print would need to transmitted off of the local system for cloud processing before it could even print on a printer attached to the same local computer.

While Google explicitly assumes that various organizations will implement their own cloud processing services that meet the required specs, at least initially (and presumably for most users for some time to come) Google itself would be the likely cloud print processor.

The willingness of individuals to send sensitive print jobs through a remote processing point, simply to have them end up back on the printer sitting on the desk next to them, seems problematic in at least some cases. Firms or organizations with ongoing security concerns and related policies (law firms, law enforcement, other government agencies, and so on) may also balk at this model (or simply be prevented from using it due to privacy and/or security regulations) -- even if high-grade encryption protects the documents in transit and the cloud processing service promises to delete all associated data immediately after print processing.

Google's Chromium OS holds a great deal of promise, and I have very high hopes for its wide deployment and success. But my gut feeling is that any OS or system that depends solely on remote processing for local printer operations will find its adoption hobbled in many environments by the kinds of concerns discussed above.

While I most definitely understand the technical attraction of reducing local print processing complexity, I would urge reconsideration of the assumption that a 100% reliance (as I read the documents, anyway) on cloud-based printing can be an adequate substitute for at least basic local printing capabilities that do not depend on Internet connections and cloud services to operate.


Posted by Lauren at April 16, 2010 01:24 PM | Permalink
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