Archived blog from the developer, Mike Towle . . . . . . . . . . .
So I get this email from a software company talking about the cloud, and it says it provides law enforcement organizations with live real time access to users' online backups. Is it just me that finds that worrying?
Now I'm all for law enforcement organizations routing out the bad guys. But I'm not a bad guy, I think? I don't do drugs, sell arms, hurt people, steel stuff, extort money, etc. I've never been arrested. I pay my taxes (grudgingly I admit). So why should anyone be allowed to poke around the data in my backups?
I've rattled on before about security issues in the cloud. But this is the first time I've seen a company actually advertising the fact they can break into someone's backup and download the data. It was chilling. If I thought this technology was only
going to be available to law enforcement agencies, to be used under very strict guidelines, I might feel a little easier. But we all know what happens. Many agencies will follow the guidelines rather loosely, some not at all. Some agencies/organizations who are nothing to do with law enforcement may get hold of it. And, if this software company can provide this kind of access to backups in the cloud, how long will it be before hackers have that access to? Maybe they already have it?
I've often read things like 'if you're a good law abiding citizen, you've got nothing to fear'. The problem is, most government agencies have a poor track record when it comes to handling data. Access to data is often abused, data is often leaked, sometimes large volumes of data are left on the hard disks of PC's/laptops/servers that are sold off or scrapped, sometimes the data is on a CD/DVD or memory stick which is then left on a train, taxi, in a hotel room, etc. and sometimes the agencies own systems are hacked. I'm not too concerned about law enforcement officers seeing my data, I'm concerned about who else gets access to it, especially if that 'who else' happens to be a competitor!
Accounting software for small businesses has mostly always run on PC's, first under MS-DOS and then Windows. But what will we all be using to run accounting software in 10 years time?
Yes, I know, Apple Mac's run accounting software too. They have been around for a long time. But it's not their strength. When it comes to small business accounting and administration type applications, the PC has dominated.
But things are changing. Sales of Windows PC's have been in decline for a little while now. Is this due to the surge in sales of tablets, or the poor take up of Windows 8? I'd guess it's a combination of the two. Tablets are good for surfing the web, and they're being used more and more by people who need access to information while not at a desk. For example, sales assistants can talk to their customers in store, tablet in hand, and answer queries about delivery, specification, price, etc. straight away, and even take the order there and then. But would you want to run your accounts system on a tablet? Not unless you plug in a keyboard, in which case why not just use a laptop running Windows instead? Tablets have an useful part to play, but not for running the core accounting tasks.
What about using the internet? The 'Cloud' is really trendy at the moment. Everyone is jumping on that bandwagon. But as an accountant recently commented to me about a cloud accounting solution "it's all hype and not enough bookkeeping". An opinion I (and many others) share. The problem is software development is very time consuming, and when it comes to developing serious business applications for the web, it's even MORE time consuming. The web was never designed for handling on-line applications, and it's not very good at it. So they'll never be as sophisticated as a PC application, and will always have fewer options and feel rather clumsy. Then of course is the security issue. Once your accounts data is in the 'Cloud', you don't actually know where it is being stored, or who has access to it. You don't really know if it's being backed up properly, and you don't really know if next time you want to access it, whether it'll still be there. Server crashes, hacking, companies going under, are things that happen all the time. Business people tend not to be taken in by hype, and so I think the security issues put many off using the Cloud for accounting purposes. Certainly, some companies offering Cloud accounting solutions are struggling. I know of one in particular who owes Adminsoft money for some promotional services, and has been unable to pay.
This sounds like I'm Cloud 'bashing', which isn't my intention. Like tablets, the Cloud has a great many benefits, but running business critical software such as an accounts system isn't one of them.
The last ten years have see some big changes in the way we use computers. The next ten will see even larger changes. My gut feeling is that although sales of Windows PC's will continue to decline, because fewer people need to use them to browse the web, Windows PC's will continue to dominate the world of small business applications for a long time, but these applications will communicate directly with other applications running on tablets and other devices and services (including the Cloud). Each device working as part of an overall solution, each one having a different role to play. But the main accounting role will remain with the Windows PC.
I fear governments. Not just because of their ability to wage war, or wreak economic havoc. As dreadful and catastrophic as those are. But also because of their constant and ever changing demands on businesses for more and more information in the name of 'progress'.
There was a time when all information, from small businesses at least, was provided to the government on paper. Changing something was a big deal for all concerned. And so changes were few. Over the last decade most western governments have realized they can have information provided to them electronically. Slowly, the paper has been disappearing. Which is actually a good thing. It reduces the amount of paper used, saving trees and energy and so also emissions. It reduces the time it takes to get information to the government. It reduces errors within the government itself because their staff do not have to type the information into a computer any more. And of course it reduces the number of staff they need, so the costs of running a tax department fall. Well that's the theory!
The problem is, it's businesses in the main that have to pickup the tab for this. Which would be fine(ish) if it's a one off. In other words if a collection of forms can now be submitted electronically, the up front cost of putting this in place can be offset by savings over the coming years. For the business, it should reduce staff time, paper, postage, and time spent handle enquiries due to errors.
So where's the problem? Well as governments are finding it so easy to get information sent to them electronically, they will be forever requesting more of it. Information they have never shown an interest in before, because collecting it was too expensive (to them), will now be available far more cheaply (at the expense of businesses). In most countries, the year end accounts are now filed electronically. So are income tax filings, and so are VAT/Sales Tax filings, and in some so is payroll information. In the United Kingdom, from April this year each time you run the payroll, you will have to submit a report electronically (in practice this means over the internet) to HMRC (the UK's tax authority). This includes highly detailed information about each employee. Far more information than they used to receive once a year on the paper based system it's replacing. In some cases this will even include information on the employees partner.
As tax fraud and money laundering are serious issues, I suspect we're not far away from our respective governments wanting to know exactly what transactions have gone into producing our accounts and tax figures. Then they can see exactly who is paying who, and how much. I haven't heard or read anything about this. But I'd be amazed if there aren't people in various governments thinking about it right now.
In the United Kingdom, the government wants all internet and telephone service providers to store ALL emails, skype, text messages, basically all forms of written electronic communication. They say it's in their fight against terrorists and organized crime. But if terrorists and organized crime know their emails etc. are going to be recorded in a big database, aren't they going to use some other method of communication? Of course they are. The government wants to store this information because it can, and best of all it can do it at some one else's expense. ie. the internet and cellular telephone service providers.
It's possible via cellular 'phones to track the location of anyone at any time. And this is done sometimes. It's only a matter of time before it's done all the time, and the movement of each individual is recorded in a database. That means you. Not because you've broken the law, bust just in case you do.
This web site is not political, it's about accounts software and anything related to it. But these last couple of months I've been working on the software to send payroll data electronically to my government. I've had to, otherwise the payroll would be useless in the United Kingdom. And it occurred to me, the government ask us to send them this and send them that, and we all comply. First it was year end accounts, then tax filings, now payroll, where does it end? Where do we draw the line? When do we say 'you're not having any more information, that's as much as we're prepared to give you'?
Because I think that as our governments' demand for information grows, and little bit by little bit we meet that demand (at our cost), and keep sending them more and more, we could cross that line and not even notice.