Microsoft Office Online or Google Docs...Which Is Best For You Legally?

Recently, in the middle of a conversation with a new acquaintance, I casually mentioned that I oftentimes by the CD of any album that I love.  I swear, the look I got in response had me thinking that maybe I had somehow grown a second head! Like everyone else, I buy digital music and use services like Sound Cloud; but if an artist puts out a genius level album, then yes, I want to own a physical copy!  The same with books… for short stories online reading is fine, but if I am going to spend my time reading a book then I want a physical copy.  Given my disposition, I am sure that it will come as no surprise that I actually buy and use a real copy of Microsoft Office Professional. But I realize that this comes with obvious limitations.  The main one being my inability to use Microsoft on my tablet or smartphone.  So, I’m pretty sure that in the future, I will be going with a subscription service for my back office needs.  

Given that I’m a tech noob, I’m sure many of you are way ahead of me when it comes to making a decision on this matter.  These days we essentially have a choice between Microsoft Office and Google Docs when it comes to meeting our back office needs.  Though each has its benefits (according to Sarah Austin, Google is better for collaboration while Microsoft is better for those who use spreadsheets on a regular basis), legally they are quite different.

As a reminder, both Google Docs and Microsoft Office Online both use cloud based technology to replace information that you would normally store on your desktop or laptop.  So, though you may be thinking that you have nothing to hide, this is quite different from the stuff that you would actively choose to share with the public on social media.  As such privacy should be a top concern for anyone making a decision between these two options.

According to Austin, Google and Microsoft are extremely different when it comes to this issue.

  • Though both claim to comply with the major privacy laws, Google has a problem complying with the strictest of laws when it comes to health information and anything related to student records.

This was made evident in a recent class-action lawsuit by certain schools in California that use Google Apps for Education.  Though Google claims to be in compliance of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“a compliance standard for schools and those working with student records”), in reality, Google was secretly mining the student data available in their gmail accounts.

Though as we see in an earlier post,  Microsoft will seek to legally read and disclose your emails if they claim they are acting to protect their rights and / or property?

  • Google also has a track record of handing over information in personal emails over to the government whereas Microsoft refuses to do so, even in contempt of a court order.
  • When it comes to financial information, Microsoft publicly acknowledges its compliance with the Gramm-Leach-Biley Act (GLBA (which” requires financial institutions to protect their clients' personal information.”)  Google refuses to make a similar claim.

Given the track record of the two companies, Austin has the following advice:

“If you are doing anything concerning medicine, the law, children, financials or where someone might think you are doing something illegal, (such as starting a disruptive business, as in the “Uber of insert an industry”), you should likely go with Microsoft… If you are doing something that has none of those risks, and everyone collaborates on text documents, such as an engineering startup or a graphic design firm, Google for Business is likely a better choice.”

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