Avoiding Extinction

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Technologies come and go. In a recent column in The New York Times, Farhad Manjoo advises readers which hardware and software products to choose if they want to minimize the chances of investing in technologies that end up being scuttled by the market’s invisible hand. He recommends buying Apple computers and mobile devices; relying on Google for email, maps, and other data services; buying media from Amazon; and using connectors such as Dropbox for file sharing or Evernote for note-taking.

Without commenting on the merits of these vendors for consumers working with innocuous data such as vacation photos and favorite recipes, I’d like to suggest that some of these brands are highly risky for business users working with any kind of confidential data, especially data subject to industry regulations such as HIPAA.

Technology obsolescence isn’t the only threat facing businesses today. Data breaches and loss of control over intellectual property are threats that are of equal or perhaps even greater importance. Regulators don’t really care if you have to trade in your BlackBerry for an iPhone. They do care if your file sharing service leaked confidential consumer data that is protected by law.

Google Maps is unquestionably a useful service for getting from Point A to Point B, but business users, including security officers and compliance officers, might feel legally side-swiped by Google’s Terms of Service for data that passes through Google services such as Gmail and Google Drive.

When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. (Retrieved on Feburary 17, 2014)

And business users might be concerned about Dropbox’s repeated security failures, including a 4-hour period in which all password-protection was disabled for all users. Businesses might want to learn a lesson from IBM, a company that has now banned Dropbox and Evernote from its networks after discovering that project plans and other confidential files were being distributed too freely on the Internet.

For businesses, investing wisely in technology involves more than avoiding obsolescence. It also means meeting all security and regulatory requirements. In that context, smart business users might broaden their search for technology beyond the popular consumer brands, since being responsible for a data breach could incur risks of personal extinction.

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