Google Docs: can we trust free software in the enterprise?

Earlier this week Google fixed a security problem affecting its Google Docs application suite that caused users to inadvertently share documents.

Earlier this week Google fixed a security problem affecting its Google Docs application suite that caused users to inadvertently share documents.

Industry experts argue that the issue highlights the problem with using free services on the internet. "You get what you pay for. It is like saying someone gave me a car and the first time I took it to the garage I had a £1,000 service," said Clive Longbottom, service director for business process analysis at Quocirca. "If you can put up with the issues, Google Docs is a perfectly good tool."

However, he warns that if users believe that a free application is offering some intrinsic value to their business, they need to seriously consider running it in-house, or pay a service provider to offer a contract with an SLA.

For the future, Longbottom suggests Google may offer a premium service with extra security and service levels. He says, "You cannot expect commercial levels of security when you are not paying for the software."

Capgemini,which sells enterprise support for Google, has played down the security risk, saying, "Whilst any issue of this sort is undesirable, Google Apps compares very well with more conventional file-oriented systems where e-mails, memory sticks and human behaviours pose significant ongoing threats."

What happened

Google said the bug affected document sharing on Google Docs. The problem occurred when the document owner, or a collaborator with sharing rights, selected multiple documents and presentations from the documents list and then changed the sharing permissions in Google Docs.

Google has now run an automated process to remove collaborators and viewers from the documents that it identified as having been affected. "We then e-mailed the document owners to point them to their affected documents in case they need to re-share them," Google said. Some users have complained the fix has stopped them collaborating on shared documents.

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