Google buys Postini, sides with The Man

IT guys of the world, rejoice! The search firm's new purchase helps it lock down workers' computers everywhere.

Published July 9, 2007 7:40PM (EDT)

Google gobbles up new companies every other day, but this morning it announced a huge purchase -- $625 million for Postini, a company that offers "communications security" for large firms. If that's too jargony for you, think of Postini's purpose this way: It's the software implementation of The Man. (Aside: See Wikipedia's entry on The Man.) When corporations adopt Postini's software, they can access, filter and impose restrictions on their employees' e-mail, instant messaging and Web habits. And because Google's moving into corporations -- it's fighting Microsoft for the right to rule over our cubicles -- helping firms keep an eye on their workers is an important goal.

Check out Postini's "IM security" page to get a feel for what the company does. Postini "stops IM-borne threats from reaching your network, and enables the monitoring and archiving of IM," it promises. "Administrators can dynamically set IM access policies, control inbound and outbound IM file transfers, filter conversations for inappropriate or sensitive content, and archive IM sessions for future search and retrieval." The company does the same thing for e-mail and the Web, ensuring that "communications policies are enforced 24x7," it says.

There's a useful purpose to these corporate lockdowns, of course. Google notes that companies are under regulations to preserve all their data; the SEC is going to want to know if you discussed setting up Cayman Island shell corporations over AIM. So companies that are itching to use Google's office apps -- Gmail, Google documents, Google Talk, etc. -- can't switch over until the software can be made to obey such archiving rules. Companies are also targets of espionage, they're subject to leaks, and they suffer losses due to viruses and other network attacks. By keeping workers' computers pinned down and monitored, Postini can mitigate all these risks, it says.

So, sure, this serves a valuable corporate purpose. But if you had any doubt that Google was working for the man, this should seal it.

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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