One of the advantages of cloud apps like Xero is that it is easy to link them. You do none of the hard work, that’s all handled for you. Best of all, you don’t need to buy fresh software or download and install patches.
Xero founder Rod Drury has hinted in the past that this year would see a lot of behind the scenes work to help small business owners get more from their existing data. He is also keen on automating processes.
Overnight his company took another step along that path when it announced Xero now links directly to Microsoft Outlook. This means you can get to mail messages, documents and contact information without ever leaving the online accounting software.
Likewise, while you are working with Outlook you can get a feed from Xero telling you details about a customer including what they have purchased and what they owe. You can then open their Xero contact information without leaving Outlook.
Taken in isolation, it’s not a huge leap forward. However, Xero has set up a number of similar links weaving its functionality deeper and deeper into small business workflows.
Late last year Drury told me a new wave of innovation is on the way. He says: “When it arrives your software will be able to watch what you’re doing, spot something that matches a pattern it already knows then ask questions like: Here’s something we noticed that we need to ask you about.”
This morning mail from Dick Smith arrived in my in-box.
You may think: “Nothing unusual there”. After all, many people who subscribed to the Dick Smith mailing list will have had the same message.
Yet, I didn’t subscribe to anything from Dick Smith.
Dick Smith’s receivers sent the message to an address I haven’t used since I left Australian in 2004.
While I never signed up to any mailing list, I did give my address to a sales person in a store in Sydney many, many years ago.
At the time, I wanted to buy something that wasn’t in stock. The salesperson asked me to leave an email address and phone number so the store could let me when it had stock.
He assured me the address would not be used for marketing purposes. It was only then that I agreed to hand it over.
This was so long ago I forgot what the product was.
To its credit, the old Dick Smith organisation kept its word through at least two changes of ownership. I just checked that old account. There have been no other communications from Dick Smith.
Yet my address has stayed on the database for at least 12 years. I wasn’t even aware it was there. And the receivers sold it without my consent.
I suspect this is illegal. It may be a breach of contract. It is certainly a breach of trust.
The only conclusion I can reach is that any promise to keep data safe is worthless.
Update: More bad faith from the Dick Smith receivers. The form to opt out asks for my full name, then wants me to confirm my address. That could be just another way of confirming data for the database. There’s no mention of my rights here either.
For a few weeks stories involving stolen emails dominated New Zealand news reports. It was no accident this was in the run up to the 2014 election.
Nicky Hager based his book Dirty Politics on messages to and from WhaleOil blogger Cameron Slater. Then Kim Dotcom revealed an email he claims proved Prime Minister John Key conspired to trap him.
Political insiders took the Dirty Politics emails seriously. Meanwhile almost everyone doubted Dotcom’s smoking gun email.
Brian Eardley-Wilmot runs Computer Forensics, a data recovery and investigation company. He says there’s a problem taking email at face value: “How can you know if an email is genuine?”
Eardly-Wilmot says that applies when the evidence is on a memory stick or printed on paper. “Anyone can print a piece of paper that looks like an email. All you need is an imagination and a copy of Microsoft Word”, he says.
He says this wouldn’t stand up in court. “If someone produced an email in court which said another person had agreed to buy a house, they could argue the message was a fake. At least you’d need to provide evidence the email was sent and received, that would mean access to both computers. Even then, it’s not proof.”
The issue echoes what the art world calls provenance. Say someone turns up a new Van Gogh painting. It would be worth millions. It may look like a Van Gogh. It may even have the painter’s signature. But unless there is a clear trail leading back to Vincent Van Gogh, there will always be doubt over its authenticity.
Eardly-Wilmot says there are important implications for any kind of commerce involving email. He says for business to work, email transactions need to include a trusted third-party such as PayPal.
Computer Forensics often gets called in to scour hard drives and servers for evidence emails and other computer data are what they claim to be.
Back with New Zealand politics there is a noticeable difference between the widespread acceptance of the Dirty Politics emails and Dotcom’s alleged message from Key.
Slater’s injunction to stop publication of the Dirty Politics emails suggests he thought they were genuine. None of the people involved claimed the messages were fake, they were more inclined to express outrage.
In contrast, Dotcom’s email evidence looked suspicious from the outset. Apart from anything else, the language and the wording of the information just doesn’t ring true. But even if that wasn’t the case, there’s no evidence about where it came from.
As they say in the art world: the message has no provenance.
There’s nothing private about mail. Google’s Gmail sees to that.
Benjamin Mako Hill hosts his own mail. You might think that would keep him free of Google’s privacy-invading clutches. Yet he points out, more than half his mail comes from or goes through a Google account. Which means the bots get to read most of his stuff.
Despite the fact that I spend hundreds of dollars a year and hours of work to host my own email server, Google has about half of my personal email! Last year, Google delivered 57% of the emails in my inbox that I replied to. They have delivered more than a third of all the email I’ve replied to every year since 2006 and more than half since 2010.