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More Thoughts on SaaS

December 5th, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

Last week, I wrote a piece on The downside of software as service. As so often is the case these days, today I ran into a few interesting comments along the same line. Last week, Financial Times posted an article by Richard Waters called The future ends at the firewall. Waters explores the growing divide between the applications people use at home versus what they can use at work. Part of this is a bandwidth issue but more importantly, most IT shops lock the desktop down pretty tight these days. As a former corporate IT person, I totally understand the logic behind this – the net is full of nasty little bugs and many an end user just doesn’t get that they shouldn’t open up that attachment from their friend.

But it doesn’t just stop with the ability to install software. Many companies have their firewalls zipped up blocking all sorts of sites. Some of this makes sense – I mean, if you’re surfing girlsgonewild at work, you are asking to get fired. Still, the filters I’ve encountered are crude at best (I once had an email from Sun blocked…near as I can tell, the filter didn’t like the acronym for Java User Group…) and why other sites were blocked just didn’t make sense to me. At my previous employer, all web based email was blocked – boy, I didn’t realize what a pain that was until I moved. While I don’t check my mail constantly, it’s sure handy to bop in there from time to time.

All that said, I get why most corporate shops are locked down and I’m not sure I blame them. Still, I have to wonder what happens when our customers get used to working with some of these apps at home and start to demand them at the office. Are we really doing them a service? What happens when they get frustrated and find a way around us? It seems to me that we are much better off trying to get ahead of this trend and managing it as opposed to trying to kill it (ask the RIAA how their approach is working with illegal music downloads…it’s pretty hard to buck the market). We need to facilitate innovation! I use Basecamp and Backpack a lot and I think they would help many an organization yet I suspect some firewalls block them. Is it any wonder more and more corporations are outsourcing IT? How many companies look at their IT shop as a slow moving impediment that spends more time saying no than helping drive results? Why not find the lowest bidder – the service couldn’t be any worse. We may not like QD (quick and dirty) but sometimes that is exactly what is called for.

There is yet another angle on SaaS that caught my attention – do we trust the organizations that have our information? It’s one thing to have a few links on del.icio.us but what happens when Google has access not only to all your email but all your searches, documents and spreadsheets? Personally, I have a lot of faith in Google but what happens when their stock price drops and angry shareholders start demanding they take advantage of the vast wealth of personal information they have? What company wouldn’t pay handsomely for access to data on all the searches done on Google? Of course a lot of people think Google is evil!

Alex Bosworth has a post along these lines: Trust, Morality, and Software Services. While it’s one thing for a company to sell our personal information, what happens when governments get involved? Apparently Yahoo turned over a reporters personal data:

The Chinese government, one of the most corrupt and repressive regimes in the world, decided that this reporter was a traitor and asked Yahoo to hand over the reporter’s identity. In an unbelievable breach of ethics, Yahoo responded to China’s request by handing over personal details about the reporter without any resistance.

Recently Google searches were used against a murder suspect – now prosecutors say they got the information from the man’s computer but the just as easily could have asked Google directly. We may trust Google but what happens when a subpoena arrives? Anything in your search history that you might not want to share? I can’t wait for this to be used in a race for some political office “my opponent is of weak moral character – he routinely searched for…”

I think most of us don’t mind sharing data – as long as we know exactly what we sharing and with whom. I don’t mind that Amazon knows what books I’ve purchased and I’m pretty intrigued by what they recommend to me based on this data. However, I wouldn’t be pleased if I found out they were routinely selling that information to third parties. I’ve had an ING account for quite a while now (how can you beat an FDIC insured account yielding 3.75%?) and I was really amazed when I got their privacy statement – they’ve adopted opt-in. As far as I am concerned opt-in should be the default…not the other way around. Maybe a lot of people don’t care as much as I do but anytime I run into a site that says “we will not sell you information…ever…unless you let us” well, I get a lot more loyal to that site then one that says “we value you’re privacy, which is why you can opt out if you call 1-800-we-sellu between noon and 1 on the third Tuesday of the month and ask for form 7452.”

Privacy will be one of the major issues of the next 10-20 years and I think people are coming around to the value of their personal information (how many of you have shredders now?) Still, I think it will take a few Senators having their identity stolen to see substantial change.

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  1. jjathman
    December 5th, 2005 at 22:51 | #1

    I’m about the least paranoid person you will ever meet when it comes to online shopping and what not (probably because I actually feel like I know what I’m doing). But even I have begun to worry a little about how much personal information is sitting out there. I bet I’ve purchased items from 50 online retailers through the years. Could I tell you what they all are, or if they are even still in business?? No way! Did they sell their servers to some surplus computer store without wiping hard drives?? Maybe. Have you seen this new thing credit card companies are doing? You run this little web app and it generates a single use credit card #. Who cares if someone steals the number? They can’t use it. Innovation, you gotta love it!

  2. December 7th, 2005 at 20:01 | #2

    Gez Joe – you brought up something I didn’t even think about – junked hard drives. MIT (I think) did a study a year or so back where they bought several hundred recycled hard drives and discovered several thousand credit card numbers. I would *hope* that a major Internet retailer is smarter than that…but….who knows. I think there is a lot to like about one time use numbers especially for a sight that you might not trust. I feel pretty secure with Amazon and Nike but others…give me pause. Heck, I’ve got one credit card that I use solely for web purchases – if it gets stolen, fine, I cancel it and I move on. Good comment Joe!

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