A client of mine contacted me recently regarding using Google Docs as the corporate standard for his company. The premise being workers would be able to work together and collaborate on projects no matter where they are. On the surface this seems like a good idea so I went and had a look at Google Docs.
On the face of it Google Docs is a useful tool and one that could solve problems for small companies wishing to implement cost effective office solutions. Companies would not have to pay licensing charges to the software supplier, there is no requirement or overhead to constantly keep patching your applications, no worries about upgrading your applications to the latest version and ensuring all machines get updated at the same time and no need to worry about backups. But best of all it is platform independent, all you need is a browser and away you go.
However, there are also a number of security issues and concerns that I have regarding Google Docs and any other Web 2.0 tools that are targetted as business level applications.
My concern with these online collaboration tools are primarily;
You are depending on Google to be secure enough to protect all your documents. What if Google gets hacked? As the user base for these applications become larger and larger resulting in all these people start storing personal and confidential information on Google, where do you think the hackers will look and focus their attacks? Will Google let users know that their systems have been hacked resulting in individual users’ documents being exposed? There have already been a number of vulnerabilities found and exploited within Google Docs. No big concerns about them yet because not many people using the system. But what is the implication for your company if Google gets hacked or have a public vulnerability announced? Will you have to tell your clients?
So you are now entrusting your private information to an American company that probably houses that information in servers located in the US. A country where privacy laws are not as strong as they are here within the EU. What is to prevent US government agencies requesting your data from Google? Don’t forget that Google have in the past bowed to government pressure to change the way the work, for example their bowing to the Chinese government’s censorship requests. Personally I would rather maintain control over my own documents and who has access to them. Google are also currently being investigated by the EU over privacy concerns the EU has in relation to how
You may not always have great bandwidth available to you to access your documents online which will mean performance will be a major pain. Don’t forget broadband coverage is not everywhere and you may end up trying to edit that important sales document that needs to be delivered to your client in the next few minutes over a slow dial-up connection.
Despite what we have grown to believe, the Internet is not the most reliable medium in the world. You will be dependent on how good your connectivity to the web is when accessing Google Docs. What happens when you are travelling and you cannot get Internet connectivity? No WiFi no mobile phone signal = no access to documents. Also companies have been known to come and go. I know it is unlikely for Google to go belly up in the morning but we said the same about Enron and MCI. Indeed, what happens if Google decides to pull the plug on Google Docs like it has on other products?
If you think I have been overly harsh in my assessment or you have any views on the pros or cons of Google Docs then please let us know via the comments field below