RMail privacy and security may not be what you expected

This blog post was originally sent via email to Ryerson students, faculty and staff currently using RMail. We encourage you to join the discussion in the comments section below.

When Gmail first became available at Ryerson, approximately 57 per cent of RMail users moved to using a Ryerson-provided Gmail account. Since then, newly arriving faculty and students have overwhelmingly opted to use Ryerson-provided Gmail accounts. The following graph shows the percentage of people who opted to use Gmail every month since 2013:

The spikes above 100 per cent represent people switching from RMail to Gmail in order to maintain an alumni account.

Gmail use steadily climbing

In the last year, without counting alumni accounts, the average monthly opt-in rate for Gmail has been 93 per cent. As a result, the number of Gmail users has steadily increased over the last six years.

As of November 2018, 90 per cent of all active accounts are in Gmail. That’s 83,602 active accounts in Gmail and 9,508 accounts in RMail. (Most RMail accounts are student or old department accounts.) Based on current opt-in rates, we expect the trend to continue until approximately 93 per cent or more of Ryerson’s email accounts are in Gmail.

Gmail is where Ryerson’s work-related email is stored

When an RMail user writes to someone else at Ryerson, they are more than likely writing to someone using Gmail. As such, using RMail does not prevent work-related email from making its way into Gmail.  Even when writing to another person using RMail (or another email system), there is no way to stop that person from copying or forwarding that email to someone else’s Gmail account. What’s more, 19 per cent of instructors using RMail forward all their mail to an email system outside the university. Based on the very high adoption rate of Gmail at Ryerson, it is now the primary place where work-related emails are stored.

For anyone who stayed with RMail because they didn’t want their email to be stored on Google’s servers in the United States, this may be discouraging news. But then again, the advantage of storing data in Canada may never have been quite what people hoped for.

Only in Canada?

When Gmail was introduced at Ryerson, some people were concerned about email being hosted in the U.S. This concern was later reinforced by early reporting of Edward Snowden’s leak of National Security Agency (NSA) files. The first reports (about PRISM) in the summer of 2013 claimed that the NSA had direct access to Microsoft, Google, Apple, Yahoo, and Facebook’s servers. It sounded like the NSA could access anything in their data centres at any time. A week after the initial reports, it turned out that wasn’t the case. See for example the Washington Post article, Here’s everything we know about PRISM to date.

On the other hand, it turned out that a system located in the UK and managed by Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in partnership with the NSA was intercepting transatlantic communications between data centres belonging to Yahoo and Google. In response, Google implemented strong encryption for all their data centre communications and now encrypts all data while it’s stored and inactive. Wikipedia has a good summary of the project MUSCULAR surveillance program.

Since 2013, nothing significant has changed regarding the risks of hosting email with Google in the U.S. Given reciprocal law enforcement agreements between the U.S. and Canada, and Canada’s laws which largely mirror the provisions of the Patriot Act, hosting email in the U.S. does not expose that data to significantly greater risk from government access than if it were to reside entirely in Canada. If a U.S. intelligence or law enforcement agency wants Canadian data that they don’t already have, they can ask for it from a Canadian intelligence or law enforcement agency. “Canada has a ‘secret court’ that allows ex parte applications for warrants, including sneak and peek warrants.” Canada also has “warrantless wiretap powers for international communications” like they do in the U.S. For more on this, please read:

I thought Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner summed up this state of affairs well at Ryerson’s 2011 Symposium on Privacy and the Cloud: “Whether you have the Patriot Act or not it doesn’t matter. There will always be law enforcement methods and techniques that will access certain types of information here, there and everywhere.” Read the privacy commissioner’s full quote.

Thinking about risks

While hosting data in the U.S. doesn’t, by itself, significantly increase privacy or security risks, that doesn’t mean we don’t have to look closely at those risks. Privacy and security were important factors in Ryerson’s selection process, as outlined in the Is Ryerson Ready to Go Google? blog post, that led to negotiating an agreement with Google. You can also read about our Email and Collaboration Tools Privacy Impact Assessment.

One reason we selected Google was because of their excellent work on securing their systems and pushing back against law enforcement requests for user information. You can read a little bit about Google’s security in my previous blog post, Comparing the security of RMail and Gmail.

In the end, RMail isn’t offering the protections people hoped it would. It isn’t keeping mail out of the U.S., or from Google’s servers, and it isn’t protecting mail as well as Google does.

How would a transition to Gmail work?

A transition to Gmail would most likely happen in a series of steps:

  1. To begin with, the option to use RMail for new accounts would be removed. All new accounts would be created in Gmail.
  2. A three-month transition period would be provided so RMail users could download and/or delete any mail they don’t want moved to Gmail. During this period, anyone who is ready to move to Gmail can do so by opting-in to Ryerson Gmail.
  3. After three months, all RMail accounts would be moved to Gmail.

While a move to Gmail may be a little disruptive for some RMail users, email client software like Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird can continue to be used.

In the near future, a survey will be shared to understand any concerns you may have about moving to Gmail. We’ve already heard some great feedback. For example, Gmail is blocked in China and some other countries. How will students working at a distance access their Ryerson email account? Some people who have used both systems have found they are more productive using RMail. Some don’t trust Google or have a strong preference that the university locally host its own email system. This is all valuable information for the Advisory Committee on Academic Computing to consider.

Yours truly,


Brian Lesser
Chief Information Officer
Ryerson University

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Comparing the security of RMail and Gmail

In July 2017, I received an email from a professor reporting a spear phishing attack against Ryerson. He was one of the 500 people targeted with a message asking them to log in to a Ryerson site that wasn’t actually set up by Ryerson. The attacker had created a copy of the RMail login page on their own server so they could capture Ryerson usernames and passwords.

While the attacker sent the message to 500 people, only the 14 people who were using RMail ended up with the message in their inbox. The remaining 484 active accounts were all on Gmail. Google’s email filters correctly identified the message as a phishing attack and diverted it to their spam folder.

CCS’ response to the spear phishing attack

In response to the attack, Computing and Communications Services (CCS) blocked access to the attacker’s website from Ryerson’s network. We also detected that seven people visited the malicious site. Eventually, CCS contacted the 14 people who received the email with information about what to do if they had entered their Ryerson password on the fake site.

Overall, had all the recipients been protected by Gmail, the risk of compromised accounts would have been much less and CCS’ follow-up work would have been unnecessary.

Phishing and malicious link alerts

Gmail not only diverts phishing messages into your spam folder, but also inserts a warning and removes the malicious link to prevent you from clicking on it.

Here’s an example of a phishing email received in a Gmail account in January 2018:

For comparison, this is the same message as received in an RMail account. Notice that hovering over the malicious link shows it leads to the attacker’s server and not to a Ryerson site:

Detecting malware

Despite significant effort by CCS to improve RMail’s security, it’s been difficult to match it with Gmail’s ability to detect malicious email attachments. Google’s anti-malware system automatically runs many types of executable files and allows the code to execute inside simulated PC and Mac environments.

Running these files allows Google to detect malware without relying on file signatures which only works if there is a match to a specific malware type. CCS has attempted to set up a similar service for RMail but doing so caused long delays in delivering email and was less effective at detecting evasive malware than a similar cloud-based service.

Two-factor authentication compatibility

RMail does not work with Ryerson’s two-factor authentication system as the software used to provide the RMail service does not support Ryerson’s Central Authentication Service (CAS). CAS is the system you use to log in to the my.ryerson portal and systems like Gmail, Google Drive, eHR, D2L Brightspace and RAMSS amongst others.

Since CAS is also the system that provides two-factor authentication, the same issue does not exist for Gmail, which works with CAS. To increase RMail’s security, we’re investigating requiring RMail users to log in to one of our firewalls using two-factor authentication before logging in to RMail. While the two logins may be a hindrance to RMail users and would require additional work on CCS’s part, at least RMail accounts would be better protected.

Operating on a global scale

Overall, Gmail is much more secure than RMail and other locally-hosted solutions. Part of the reason for this is due to Google’s ability to operate at a scale that allows them to detect and respond to attacks quickly and effectively.

At the 2018 Google Next conference, Google announced that they:

  • support 1.4 billion monthly active Gmail users, including 80 million students;
  • stop 99.9 per cent of spam and phishing attacks; and
  • block 10 million bad messages per minute.

Why does this matter?

Occasionally, someone will tell me none of this really matters because they aren’t going to be fooled by phishing attacks and know better than to open most attachments. I wish that’s all there was to it. The truth is that RMail is a security liability.

Compromised RMail accounts can be used by attackers to send very convincing phishing and other malicious emails to other people at Ryerson. Those emails can be injected into existing email discussions and will deceive just about everyone. This phishing technique has been successfully used at other universities to compromise accounts as part of payroll diversion attacks.

Seven years ago, running RMail in parallel with Gmail didn’t seem that risky. CCS already had in place both open source and proprietary spam and attachment filtering systems that worked reasonably well. But a lot has changed since then—the internet has become an increasingly hostile place. RMail has fallen behind and we don’t have the capacity to protect it in the same way Google can protect Gmail.


Of course, there is much more to Gmail security so I have provided references for those who may be interested.

Readers may also be interested in our first blog post for this consultation, “Is it time to shut down RMail?”.

Yours truly,

Brian Lesser
Chief Information Officer
Ryerson University

This blog post was originally communicated via email to Ryerson students, faculty and staff currently using RMail.

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Is it time to shut down RMail?

This blog post was originally communicated via email to students, faculty and staff at Ryerson University. We encourage you to join the discussion in the comments section below.

Ryerson is conducting a consultation to inform recommendations on the future of the RMail system at the university. Over the next 10 days, subsequent messages and a survey invitation will be emailed directly to current RMail users and also posted on our Email & Collaboration Tools Consultation blog for discussion.

Everyone in the Ryerson community is welcome to share thoughts on this topic whether or not they are current users of RMail.

Why hold a consultation?

In November 2011, the Advisory Committee on Academic Computing (ACAC) recommended adopting Google Apps for Education—now called G Suite. Since then, 93 per cent of the Ryerson community have chosen to use Gmail at Ryerson instead of our older RMail system. At the time, ACAC recommended re-evaluating the use of RMail after two years:

“The RMail system is not expected to provide the capacity or quality of service of GMail. After two years Ryerson will re-examine the use of RMail as an opt-out option—especially to explore if there are better ways to mitigate any risks of using a provider in a foreign jurisdiction and to review the quality of service offered by RMail.”

Seven years on from ACAC’s recommendation, it’s now time to consider if Ryerson should shut down RMail and move entirely to Gmail.

Cybersecurity concerns with RMail

There are two important reasons to consider shutting down RMail at this time:

  1. Email-based attacks have become more sophisticated with greater implications for recipients. RMail is now significantly less secure than Gmail.
  2. The growing use of Gmail at Ryerson means almost every work-related email that was sent to or from an RMail account is now stored in someone’s Gmail account. Using RMail does not mean your email content is prevented from being stored in Gmail.

Ryerson’s safeguards from Google tracking

Ryerson’s agreement with Google has never permitted data mining or web and application tracking. As such, Google has never been (and is still not) able to track your Google services usage while you’re logged in to your Ryerson Google account.

What’s more, over the past seven years, Google has continuously made G Suite more secure. They now strongly encrypt all data at rest and in transit and have worked consistently to better protect Gmail accounts from phishing attacks. Google not only disabled ads in G Suite for Education but also shut down the scanning process that enabled ads.

Would you switch to Gmail? Have your say

In the next 10 days, we will post more information about the challenges of trying to secure RMail, the growing use of Gmail at Ryerson and how we might eventually migrate accounts from RMail to Gmail.

Please visit the Email & Collaboration Tools Consultation blog to share your thoughts on the idea. As part of this consultation, we plan to survey RMail users to make sure we understand any concerns they may have about moving to Gmail.

Please also feel free to write to me directly about this proposed change. ACAC will review the response from the Ryerson community before making a recommendation on the future of RMail.

Yours truly,

Brian Lesser
Chief Information Officer
Ryerson University

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Email and Collaboration Tools Privacy Impact Assessment

The following documents comprise Ryerson University’s Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) of Google Apps for Education.

Ryerson began a community consultation process in January of 2011 regarding the future of email and collaboration systems at the university. A full description of the goals of the consultation are available in the introduction page of this site.

The first major event of the consultation was the February 24, 2011 symposium on Exploring the Future of E-mail, Privacy, and Cloud Computing at Ryerson. Video of the entire symposium is available online as are the presentation materials. The symposium – including the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) of Ontario’s presentation – had a significant impact on how we approached assessing the risks of cloud-based and locally hosted email and collaboration systems. Dan Michaluk, a partner at Hicks Morley, posted this article about the IPC’s presentation: Commissioner Cavoukian Says the Patriot Act Is “Nothing”. Shortly afterwards Ryerson began to develop, with the assistance of the IPC, its own PIA methodology based on the principles of Privacy by Design.

In March of 2011 we began collecting detailed requirements for email and collaboration tools from the Ryerson community that resulted in a Request for Proposals (RFP). Significant sections of the RFP were devoted to accessibility, security, privacy, ownership of data, mail opt out options, legal jurisdictions, and the Patriot Act. The RFP was posted on August 22, 2011 and closed on October 3rd.

Following a lengthy and detailed evaluation of the proposals, the Advisory Committee on Academic Computing (ACAC) voted unanimously to recommend that Ryerson adopt Google Apps for Education for use by students, faculty and staff. The recommendation was accepted in January of 2012 and Ryerson began the process of negotiating an agreement with Google as well as assessing more deeply the impact on privacy, financial risk, integration and security of Google Apps for Education.

The following documents comprise the Privacy Impact Assessment that resulted from this process.

Google Apps for Education became available at Ryerson in October of 2012. Support and other information related to Google Apps are available online at




-Brian Lesser

Director, Computing and Communications Services


Google Admin Settings – PIA 2014 – Sheet1

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Introducing Google Apps at Ryerson

I am pleased to announce that Ryerson University has reached an agreement with Google to make Google Apps for Education available to all students, faculty, and staff. Google Apps is a powerful collaboration platform that includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Drive and other services.

Starting on the Thanksgiving weekend, Computing and Communications Services (CCS) will begin the process of setting up Google accounts for everyone at Ryerson. Faculty and students who opt to use Gmail instead of Rmail will have their email moved to Gmail as will all Ryerson staff. Note: your email address will not change and you will not see advertisements. (GroupWise users will receive more information via email.) If everything goes according to plan you will have access to Google Apps by October 9.

More information about Google Apps and how to opt-in to Gmail is available at http://ryerson.ca/googleI encourage you to visit the site to find out more.

The decision to adopt Google Apps for Education was made after a year-long consultation process that considered issues of privacy, security, accessibility, platform features, and cost effectiveness. More information on the consultation process is available on the consultation blog at http://email.blog.ryerson.ca. I am thrilled that the process led to the adoption of a new online working environment for Ryerson University. I hope you enjoy using it to collaborate and communicate.

Julia Hanigsberg
Vice-President, Finance and Administration 


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Privacy and Security Information Sessions

Thank you to all who attended the Going Google at Ryerson – Privacy and Security Information Sessions. For those of you who were unable to attend, you can watch the presentation here:


Many great questions about the project were brought forward, which helps us a great deal as we work on building our FAQ. If you have further questions about the project, privacy, and security, or Google Apps in general, we’d love to hear them. Please post your questions here, or email them to:


If you are interested in participating as an early adopter of Google Apps in our Beta testing project phase, please email apps@ryerson.ca to be put on the list of testers.

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Working with SADA Systems

Ryerson has selected a third party system integrator to help us implement Google Apps for Education at Ryerson. SADA Systems Inc. http://www.sadasystems.com/cloud-solutions-google-apps.php is working with Computing and Communications Services (CCS) on project planning, data migration, system integration, and community training.

The SADA team visited Ryerson on the week of April 10 and were able to help CCS validate and refine much of the CCS implementation team’s initial project planning. We are also working on a communications strategy to make sure the Ryerson community knows what to expect and where to go for help.

We are continuing to work on adding more detail to our privacy impact assessment, the financial risk assessment, integration, accessibility and security assessments which are all key pieces as we move ahead with negotiating an acceptable agreement with Google.

Our initial plan is to migrate to Google in three steps:

  1. Alpha Testing: move some CCS staff to Google
  2. Beta Testing: move early adopters (volunteers) from across the University to Google
  3. Migrate faculty, staff, and students to Google in September

This timing is only preliminary! Until an agreement is signed with Google, and we have done more testing, we will not know if we will be able to start the migration process early in the Fall term.

Faculty and Students will have the opportunity to opt in to Google’s Gmail service or continue using Rmail. There is no opt out for Google Calendar or the other services that make up Google Apps for Education. Our current plan is to make a form available later this summer in the my.ryerson.ca portal. Faculty and students will see the form when they log in. The form will ask them to choose between using Rmail or Gmail.

We will post more information as it becomes available on this blog.

Updated April 27 to indicate our current plan is to provide Gmail as an opt-in option rather than an opt out.

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Letter of Acceptance

On December 20, 2011 we reviewed the joint proposal to adopt Google Apps for Education submitted by the Advisory Committee on Academic Computing (ACAC) and Computing and Communications Services (CCS). We are pleased with the work done by the joint ACAC/CCS committee to thoroughly research the needs of the Ryerson community, the options for a new email, calendar and collaboration platform, and the issues related to cloud computing. The consultation process was notable for being both informative and inclusive.

We are delighted to accept the committee’s assessment of Google Apps for Education as the preferred solution for Ryerson. The proposal includes a series of next steps leading to negotiation of a contract with Google, which we also support. We look forward to the outcome of the proposed assessments on privacy, financial risk, integration and security.

If adopted, Google Apps for Education will provide the Ryerson community with a rich collaboration platform that will work consistently across the entire university and will dramatically improve the online environment at Ryerson. We also accept the committee’s recommendation that students and faculty who do not wish to use Gmail for email be able to use the current Rmail system.

For more information on the proposal, visit


We’d like to commend Dimitri Androutsos, Chair, ACAC and Brian Lesser, Director, CCS for their leadership on this significant project. We would also like to recognize the important contribution and hard work of the Email and Collaboration Committee:

Dimitri Androutsos, Electrical and Computer Engineering (Co-chair)
Brian Lesser, Director, Computing and Communications Services (Co-chair)
Mike MacDonald, Arts
Jason Naughton, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Casey Carvalho, Computing and Communications Services
Saira Chhibber, Ryerson Students’ Union
Heather Driscoll, Information and Privacy Coordinator
Dave Mason, Computer Science
Jennifer Parkin, Computing and Communications Services
Ilone Harrison, Records and Information Management

Yours truly,

Alan Shepard, Provost and Vice President Academic

Julia Hanigsberg, Vice-President, Finance and Administration

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ACAC Recommends Going Google

On December 6 the Advisory Committee on Academic Computing (ACAC) voted unanimously to recommend that Ryerson adopt Google Apps for Education. Here is the final text of the recommendation.

December 6, 2011

Proposal to Adopt Google Apps for Education


The E-mail and Collaboration Committee has consulted with the Ryerson community regarding the options for providing all Ryerson students, faculty, and staff with a new University-wide E-mail, Calendar, and Collaboration Platform. Our consultations have included:

  • information provided on this blog that includes comments from the Ryerson Community;
  • a symposium Exploring the future of E-mail, Privacy, and Cloud Computing at Ryerson;
  • requirements survey available to anyone at Ryerson;
  • a Request for Proposal(RFP) that reflected Ryerson’s requirements and included sections on accessibility, security, privacy, ownership of data, mail opt out options, legal jurisdictions, and the Patriot Act.
  • town halls to discuss this proposal;

The committee has also worked with Ryerson’s Privacy Coordinator and consulted with staff from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario regarding developing a Privacy Impact Assessment based on Privacy by Design Principles.

Adoption of Google Apps for Education

Google Apps for Education is a full-featured Web and mobile enabled collaboration platform that includes Gmail, Google calendar, Google Docs (including documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, drawings, and tables), Google Sites, Google Groups, and Google Talk (instant messaging, audio chats, and video conferences). Other features include Google Reader, Google+, Blogger, Picasa, Google Video for Business, Google Groups for Business, 25GB email storage per person, BlackBerry and Microsoft Outlook access, and integration with MS Office via SharePoint services. Google makes it possible to integrate their services with Learning Management Systems and Student Administration Systems for example Blackboard and RAMSS. Google also makes it possible to add custom widgets to their services and to build custom online services using Google’s App Engine. Google Apps for Education is not the same as Google’s consumer services. No advertising is shown to students, faculty, and staff and there is no data mining. (Alumni do see ads.) Google offers a level of physical and online security unavailable within Ryerson’s current IT infrastructure. Their services are more robust than any service at Ryerson and routinely provide well over 99.9% availability. All these services are available to Ryerson without cost. (Google also offers additional storage and other service enhancements for a fee.) The committee believes Google offers one of the best online services available anywhere in the world and, unlike any comparable service, makes all of it available for faculty, staff, and students for free. Consequently we recommend:

  1. Ryerson complete an in depth privacy impact assessment, financial risk assessment, integration and security assessment of adopting Google Apps for Education;
  2. Provided a satisfactory outcome to these steps, Ryerson should negotiate an acceptable agreement with Google and a systems integrator for professional services to help planning and implementing the adoption of Google Apps for Education;
  3. Provided a satisfactory contract is negotiated, Ryerson will adopt Google Apps for Education as Ryerson’s University-wide E-mail, Calendar, and collaboration platform;
  4. After the transition to Google Apps for Education is complete, the GroupWise E-mail and Calendaring system will be decommissioned;
  5. We also anticipate that Faculties and Departments that run their own E-mail and/or calendaring systems will also migrate to Google Apps for Education and that they be encouraged to do so in order to provide a universal calendaring and collaboration platform for everyone at Ryerson;

Security, Privacy, and the Protection of Confidential Records

The superior security, ability to control default privacy settings, the expected language in a contract with Google, and ability to integrate with Ryerson’s identity management, authentication, and directory services means that adopting Google Apps for Education will improve Ryerson’s ability to protect the privacy of its users and the confidentiality of records hosted by Google. However, Google is based in the United States and so falls under U.S. laws including anti-terrorism legislation such as the Patriot Act. Naturally this leads to concern that U.S. law enforcement agencies might have access to information that they would not have access to if Ryerson’s data is hosted by Ryerson or another Canadian organization based entirely in Canada. However, Canada has similar anti-terrorism legislation that provides for access to information without a court order and without notification. U.S. and Canadian law enforcement officials have both formal and informal information sharing agreements in place and routinely share large amounts of information. Also mutual legal assistance treaties allow Canadian authorities to get warrants for US authorities, and vice versa. ( http://blog.privacylawyer.ca/2011/10/cloudlaw-law-and-policy-in-cloud.html ) In other words, U.S. law enforcement agencies are capable of accessing information in Canada without a court-issued warrant and without notifying the person to whom the data belongs. It is therefore difficult to judge if there is a significant increase in risk to using Google Apps for Education. However, even if the increase in risk is extremely small for most people, the consequences of access to private information may be significant. Consequently, we recommend that Ryerson provide an opt-out option for faculty and students who judge they have an increased risk if their E-mail is hosted by Google. Because the incremental risk of using a U.S.-based provider is so small, we expect the vast majority of students, faculty, and staff will prefer to use GMail. However, we recommend:

  1. Before providing access to Google Apps for Education, users and departments will be informed by Ryerson that data, including emails, stored with Google will reside in foreign jurisdictions and will be subject to the laws of those jurisdictions including the Patriot Act. They can then make an informed decision about what kind of information they will transmit through GMail or store in any of the Google Apps for Education services.
  2. Faculty and students may elect to use RMail instead of GMail. (Staff should discuss any concerns with their managers as operational concerns may make opting out unfeasible.) However they must choose between Email systems. They cannot use both. The University will provide a means to change systems at certain times every year.
  3. All faculty, staff, and students will be provided with a Google calendar which may contain automatically updated schedule information from RAMSS and information regarding significant dates, events, and deadlines.
  4. By default, all faculty, staff, and students have available to them all the features of Google Apps for Education except E-mail for users who opt to use RMail.
  5. Authentication will be done by Ryerson with no need to provide your login credentials to Google when only the web interface is in use.
  6. Logging in through my.ryerson.ca and accessing resources available through Google will not send your Ryerson password to Google. Some services may require you provide Google with a password. For example to use an E-mail client that supports IMAP and connects directly to Google’s service. Where possible Ryerson and Google will work together to avoid this scenario or provide options such as using a second password only for Google. Otherwise Ryerson will notify the community where passwords will pass through Google’s service.
  7. There will be no advertising or data mining for faculty, staff, and student accounts. Google may display ads in Alumni accounts.
  8. Google will not own any data. All data is the property of Ryerson and/or its end users and the contract with Google will have no impact on the intellectual property rights, custody, or control of faculty, staff, and student data.
  9. Google will make available to Ryerson SAS 70 Type 2 internal controls compliance reports. These reports are conducted by a third party and include information on Google’s controls and processes related to physical security, privacy, logical security, change management, organization and management.
  10. All client/service Web traffic will be encrypted in transit by default as will all University/Google traffic.
  11. The RMail system is not expected to provide the capacity or quality of service of GMail. After two years Ryerson will re-examine the use of RMail as an opt out option – especially to explore if there are better ways to mitigate any risks of using a provider in a foreign jurisdiction and to review the quality of service offered by RMail.


Ryerson’s E-mail and Calendaring systems have not remained competitive with online services provided by companies like Google. For example, Ryerson’s systems do not provide Gmail’s features, storage capacity, or availability. Ryerson does not currently offer University-wide calendaring, instant messaging, video chat services, real-time collaborative document editing and review, and other services required to provide a rich online working and collaboration environment.

Adopting Google Apps for Education will provide the Ryerson community with a rich collaboration platform that will work consistently across the entire University. Just as Ryerson’s Master Plan is a bold undertaking designed to revitalize the campus and act as a catalyst for change and renewal, we believe adopting Google Apps for Education will act as a catalyst by dramatically improving the online environment at Ryerson.


Updated Nov. 28, 2011 with small changes to items 6 and 8 to address concerns expressed by faculty regarding single sign on and custody and control.


Brian Lesser
Director, Computing and Communications Services

Dimitrios Androutsos
Chair, Advisory Committee on Academic Computing
Associate Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering

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Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is a work in progress and is based on questions and comments we have received. If you have a question or comment you would like answered please leave a comment on this page. Please note, comments on this blog are moderated to avoid spam. If you post a comment it may not appear immediately. It takes some time for us to receive a notification of a new comment and to read and release it.

Q1: What exactly are you proposing? Will there be an opt out option?

A: The draft proposal is available on this blog at:


Q2: Why would Ryerson pay Google when we could pay a Canadian company?

A: The suite of services in Google Apps for Education is free to Ryerson for use by our faculty, staff, and students. Canadian hosting companies are capable of hosting similar services using Microsoft’s software but would charge Ryerson millions per year to host accounts for everyone at Ryerson. Google’s Gmail offers 25 GB of storage. If it becomes necessary, Ryerson has the option to purchase additional storage and Email archiving services from Google.

Q3: I don’t trust Google. Why do you believe they will protect my privacy?

A: If we go forward with Google it will only be if we can agree with Google on a contract that binds Google to protect the privacy of the Ryerson community. However we don’t just have to take Google’s written agreement that they protect privacy. Google also submits to third party SAS 70 type 2 audits and must provide Ryerson with the results. Google also has a 20 year agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States to have its privacy practices audited. Due to its size, previous privacy mistakes (StreetView Wifi recording and default settings in Google Buzz), and lobbying by its competitors, Google is heavily scrutinized. In order to attract and retain corporations and governments to the commercial version of their services, Google must protect their customer’s data. Google’s Apps for Business is used by over 4 million businesses. Those businesses expect Google to protect their data. It is in Google’s interest to maintain very high security standards and protect the privacy of users in their Google Apps for Education, Google Apps for Business, and Google Apps for Government offerings. Google’s agreement with the FTC is available online: http://www.ftc.gov/os/caselist/1023136/110330googlebuzzagreeorder.pdf

Q4: Can Google guarantee members of the Ryerson community their privacy?

A: No one can completely guarantee privacy within an online system. Some reasons for this are:

  • Law enforcement agencies with a warrant or production order can access private data.
  • No system has perfect security. Users can be tricked into giving away their passwords, malware may infect a user’s computer and provide access to local and remote systems, previously unknown vulnerabilities may be discovered that allow acces to confidential data before a system can be patched, or physical security may be compromised – for example when hard drives are stolen.
  • You may send Email to someone in confidence who forwards it to someone else without your permission.  Email traffic between Email servers may not be encrypted.

The Request for Proposal (RFP) that Ryerson issued included questions related to security and privacy. Based on the responses we believe the Google Apps for Education service can be configured so that personal information is well protected by default. People who use the system may then decide when and how to share information.

Q5: Why host outside Canada? Won’t that expose my Email and documents to American law enforcement agencies?

A: We share your concern about making sure that robust privacy and security controls are in place. The very short answer is that Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act and Mutual Legal Assistance treaty with the United States already represents an exposure of your Ryerson Email to US law enforcement agencies. Three more detailed points here:

First: Moving to the cloud does not take us from a privacy-friendly situtation to a privacy-risky situation.  There are very real privacy and security risks currently associated with maintaining the status quo.  Keeping things the way they are does not prevent access to your data from foreign or domestic law enforcement authorities. Even if privacy and security were the only considerations, which they are not (we are also looking at functionality, storage, cost), we would be recommending some sort of change as the status quo is not where we want to be.  Then, add in to the mix the shifting and evolving legal landscape concerning privacy, lawful access to data, and warrantless searches of data.  Shortly after the terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001, both the U.S. and Canada enacted legislation which expanded law enforcement authorities’ abilities to access data within their own jurisdictions and beyond. Treaties between the United States and Canada make it possible for American law enforcement agencies to access your Email and documents stored at Ryerson. For example, if you are “a person of interest” in an FBI terrorism investigation, the FBI can contact the RCMP (or CSIS) to request information about you. The RCMP can apply to a secret Canadian court, created under Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act, to get access to your Email and documents. American authorities can get information in Canada without a warrant. Given the similarities between laws in the United States and Canada and the large amount of information routinely shared between U.S. and Canadian agencies, there may be no effective impact on safeguarding your data related to lawful access, between hosting in the U.S. and Canada.  Regardless of what E-mail system you use, there is some risk of access under these legal schemes.  Legal experts and privacy experts are of the view that the amount of risk is very low for the majority of individuals and that the greater privacy risk comes from how users themselves use Email and social media tools to create, share and retain data.  For more information please see:

Second: before posting any data anywhere, think about the consequences; namely, have you considered what would happen should the information in or attached to the Email be shared beyond the intended recipients. Email is a necessary and convenient communication tool but it is not necessarily the best choice for all communications, particularly those containing sensitive and confidential information. You cannot control what a recipient does with the information you have sent to them (how long they keep it, or with whom they share it).  A significant number of privacy incidents are user-derived, meaning that they are the result of Emails sent to the wrong addressee or containing information to which others should not have seen. The most significant source of privacy incidents derives from unsecure devices where personal information is stored, specifically laptops, memory sticks and cell phones.  Ryerson policies indicate that users storing personal information on these devices are responsible for their security (http://www.ryerson.ca/about/vpadministration/assets/pdf/InformationProtectionandAccessPolicy.pdf). Ryerson has developed a variety of solutions to support these requirements (http://www.ryerson.ca/ccs/itsecurity/confidentialdata/index.html).  If these solutions don’t meet your educational, teaching, research or administrative needs, please let us know.  We are committed to working with you to finding solutions.

Third:  Assessing privacy risks for this project is an ongoing activity.  Ryerson is performing a privacy risk assessment of the proposal to outsource Email, calendaring and collaboration tools to a cloud provider.  If the current proposal goes to the executive and is approved, we will work toward implementation of a system using the internationally-recognized standard of Privacy by Design (http://privacybydesign.ca/).  We have partnered with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario to help us meet this standard.  This means building in user control over how their personal information is shared, their online profile, and enabling users to assess individual risks, of which Ryerson may not be aware, and make informed decisions about the appropriate places to store data and how to communicate.  It means considering the privacy risks for the entire lifecycle of the data, from creation to destruction.   It means looking at ways to build privacy into the cloud configuration and user settings that Ryerson is considering.  Ryerson expects to provide you with information about options available to you.  We expect to be transparent about these risks and want to engage with you in a conversation.   The process does not end with announcing that we are proposing to outsource services to Google.  In fact, a key part of the privacy risk assessment can happen only after contract negotiations commence, should Ryerson decide to pursue this.

Q6: Why is Google offering all this for free with no Ads and no Data Mining? It costs real money for them to host such features.

A: Google wants our students to use their services in the hope that they will continue using them when they leave Ryerson. If students use the consumer service after they leave, Google will make money on ads. If their employer decides to subscribe to Google’s corporate services, Google will profit from the fees it collects from them. Over 4 million businesses use Google Apps for Business. Google is engaged in a world-wide competition with Microsoft for these sorts of cloud-based consumer, corporate, and government services. They have a long term interest in attracting as many people as possible to their platform. However, according to Google:

Google was founded by a research project at Stanford University, and this is just one way we can give back to the educational community

Google’s costs are also lower than companies and Universities that run smaller scale machine rooms and data centres. Google provides an overview regarding the efficiency of their data centres here: http://www.google.com/about/datacenters/inside/efficiency/

Q7: Faculty members have raised concerns with Tri-Council regulations and Google data storage as well as other research partners and funders and data storage and data location – how will these be addressed?

A: We are not aware of a Tri-Council regulation that prohibits hosting research data in the United States. However, Article 5.3 in the Tri-Council Policy Statement on Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans includes this statement:

“Research data sent over the Internet may require encryption or use of special denominalization software to prevent interception by unauthorized individuals, or other risks to data security. In general, identifiable data obtained through research that is kept on a computer and connected to the Internet should be encrypted.”

Sensitive and confidential research data should never be sent in plain text Emails. Regardless of the Email system being used (Rmail or Gmail) confidential research data should be strongly encrypted if it must be sent via Email. Similarly, confidential research data should be stored in a strongly encrypted format on Internet accessible file servers at Ryerson or if they are stored on Google’s servers. If a research partner or funder prohibits storing data in the United States, Belgium, or Finland, then Google’s services must not be used – just as they are not used today. This does not mean Google docs and other services cannot be used by researchers. We believe Gmail and Google docs are an excellent way to discuss research and write and review research papers that do not include confidential research data. Google makes available a list of its data centres used for its Google Apps services:


Q8: The Committee cannot hand over custody and control to either Ryerson administration or to Google. RFA members have the right to custody and control of all their emails, correspondence, etc. The RFA asserts that right and it cannot be violated by any contract with Google or any other company.

A: Please see item number 8 under the section Security, Privacy, and the Protection of Confidential Records in the Draft Proposal:


It was designed to address concerns that outsourcing would somehow change the control or custody of records at Ryerson. Our goal is to change the default Google contract language from saying data is owned by the University to saying that data is owned by the University and/or its users. We believe this language and the other parts of item 8 removes any implication that the University is the sole owner of all data and means a contract with Google will have no impact on how the custody and control of records are managed at Ryerson. We do not believe a contract with Google is an appropriate place to further refine issues related to custody and control. Our interest is only to make sure a contract with Google will have no impact on issues related to custody and control at Ryerson. Useful background information on this issue is available here:

Q9: We should resist any attempts to hand over the emails of our members to third parties without the consent of the member and the RFA

A: Please see items one and two in the section titled: Security, Privacy, and the Protection of Confidential Records:


We believe Ryerson’s students and faculty are capable of making an informed choice regarding using Gmail or opting to use Rmail instead. Consequently, we are proposing giving fair notice and allowing faculty and students to opt to use Rmail instead of Gmail if they want to.

Q10: Who is preparing this proposal?

A: The proposal is being made by ACAC and CCS.  ACAC is the Advisory Committee on Academic Computing created by the Provost, that provides a link between CCS and faculty on matters that deal with technology and academia. It strives to establish the appropriate and effective use of educational technology by faculty, student and staff members in the pursuit of excellence in education and research.  ACAC has existed and been active at Ryerson since 1983.

More formally, ACAC acts as an independent advisory committee to the Provost & Vice Provost, Academic, and to the Vice President, Administration & Finance on issues pertaining to computing and technology and how they affect faculty, and vice versa.  Membership of ACAC is comprised of representatives from across all faculties (elected by their deans), and as such members report on ACAC issues directly to their respective deans.

The committee deals with and is responsible for analyzing, investigating and recommending policies and guidelines on issues such as:

  • acceptable use of technology
  • network and computing security
  • information and privacy security
  • wiring and wireless policies
  • web policy

In addition the committee deals with high-level issues and initiatives, such as:

  • promoting effective communication between faculty members and CCS so that issues of concern may be dealt with effectively and efficiently
  • identifying, evaluating and recommending both short-term and long-term technological requirements

The current members of ACAC are:

Name Faculty/Affiliation
Dimitri Androutsos, Chair FEAS
Phil Coppack (sabb) Arts
Mike MacDonald Arts
Stephen Swales Arts
Jason Nolan Community Services
Peter Pille TRSM
Paul Dunphy Business
Brian Lesser CCS
Ken Woo CCS
Fangmin Wang Library
Bruno Lessard FCAD
Ju Ho Park Chang School of CE
Wieslaw Michalak Grad Studies
Chris Evans Vice Provost Academic
Steve Daniels (sabb) FCAD

Please see our blog post introducing the consultation process and the Symposium we hosted jointly with Ryerson’s Privacy and Cyber Crime Institute on The Future of Email, Privacy, and Cloud Computing at Ryerson:


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