This summer UBC IT services will be switching student email away from NetInfo/Interchange email. Instead, UBC will offer two new optional services – an alias email address and a mailbox service hosted by an external provider. Which provider UBC will work with is not known at this point. The change comes at a time when many universities across Canada have switched to cloud-based email services hosted by Google, Microsoft or Zimbra/Scalar – an email solution hosted in Canada.
The reasons for the switch? Cloud-based email services are cheaper and more convenient, with fewer university resources devoted to maintaining and upgrading email servers and software. The email services also come with useful contacts, and calendaring systems, supporting a range of devices from desktops to smartphones. And unlike a standard gmail account, the service offered by to the university does not permit advertising or data mining of student information by the company.
Another perk is that with the switch, which applies only to students not faculty and staff, students will be able to keep their UBC email address for life.
- Email is, by nature, insecure. While in transit and on servers email is often unencrypted. A good rule of thumb is to consider email communication as private as a cell phone call made in public. If you absolutely must send highly confidential information over the Internet, consider putting that information on a secure web page and sending a link to it instead.
- Information held in an email account has no guaranteed privacy. Any email exists not only in the account it has been sent to, but also in the account it was sent from, in any accounts to which it was forwarded, and likely on many servers.
- If email is stored on servers in the U.S., it is subject to the U.S. Patriot Act. The Patriot Act allows a US government agency to collect personal information per a court order or by issuing a national security letter as a result of a terrorism investigation. Both these methods do not require the person to be notified if their information is accessed. If the information resides on Canadian servers, the US government would need to approach the Canadian government for access.
Despite these cautions, email is a fantastic tool, one that can facilitate communication and enhance learning at the university.