Privacy and Security Concerns

Privacy and Security Concerns

When you're using Google Spreadsheets, you're relying on Google to store your work on their servers. This may raise some concerns about privacy and security; all your data is in Google's hands.

These sound like reasonable concerns, but Google says you shouldn't worry. Although Google Spreadsheets stores your spreadsheets on their servers, they do not collect other personal information about you. In addition, Google uses a secure authentication method to control access to any spreadsheet you create. While you can grant others access to share your spreadsheets, those spreadsheets are private by default. Unless you share a spreadsheet URL, no one else can view that spreadsheet.

Should You Use Google Spreadsheets?

Before you jump in to the Google Spreadsheets waters, you need to ask the question, is Google Spreadsheets right for your particular needs? The answer, of course, is that it all depends.

Here are the following users for whom I'd say Google Spreadsheets holds promise:

  • Beginning spreadsheet users If you're just starting out in the spreadsheet world, there's no better place to start than with Google Spreadsheets. GS's slightly limited functionality actually works to the benefit of beginning users; you won't be overwhelmed by all the advanced options that clutter the Excel workspace. Plus, Google Spreadsheets is extremely easy to use; everything you need is right out in the open, not hidden beneath layers of menus and dialog boxes. I wish I'd had Google Spreadsheets 20 years ago, when I was learning how to use PC spreadsheets (with Lotus 1-2-3, if your memory extends back that far).

  • Casual spreadsheet users Google Spreadsheets is also a good choice if you have modest spreadsheet needs. If all you're doing is creating a few lists, totaling a few numbers, or creating a simple budget or two, Google Spreadsheets gets the job done with ease.

  • Anyone who wants access to their spreadsheets from multiple locations If you work on the same data at work and at home (or on the road), you know what a hassle it is to carry your data around with you from computer to computerand keep it synchronized. Google Spreadsheets solves this problem. Wherever you are (home, office, on the road), you're always accessing the same version of your spreadsheet file, stored on Google's servers. There are no synchronization issues; you work on the same file wherever you go.

  • Anyone who needs to share their spreadsheets with others Sometimes you need others to view what you're working on. Maybe you have a family budget that you and your spouse both need to see. Maybe you have a soccer team schedule that other parents need to view. Whatever the need, Google Spreadsheets lets you share your spreadsheets with anyone you like, over the Web.

  • Anyone who needs to edit their spreadsheets in a collaborative environment Sharing is one thing; collaborative editing is another. If you need multiple users to both access and edit data in a spreadsheet, Google Spreadsheets lets you do things that are impossible in Excel. For example, I know of one entrepreneur who adopted Google Spreadsheets for his small telemarketing company. He has five employees making calls at the same time, all from their homes. He has all five employees work from the same spreadsheet; they not only access the same call data, they also enter their results into the spreadsheetlive, via the Internet.

All that said, Google Spreadsheets isn't for everyone. So who shouldn't use Google Spreadsheets?

  • Power users If you've created your own custom spreadsheet or database applications in Excel, Google Spreadsheets is not for you. It lacks many of Excel's most advanced features and simply won't get the job done. Same thing if you use a lot of macros and advanced functions; Excel has a lot of high-end features that Google Spreadsheets doesn't.

  • Anyone who wants to create charts and graphs At present, Google Spreadsheets lacks a graphics engine. This means no pie charts or bar graphs. If you need graphing capability, stick with Excel.

  • Anyone who wants to create sophisticated printouts Likewise, Google Spreadsheets lacks some of the more sophisticated formatting options that some Excel users take for granted. (No cell borders, for example.) With Google Spreadsheets, what you see onscreen is exactly what prints outfor better or for worse. If you need fancy printouts, Google Spreadsheets will probably disappoint.

  • Anyone who needs to work when not connected to the Internet This is the blatantly obvious one, but if you're not connected to the Internet, you can't connect to and work with Google Spreadsheets. To work offline, you need Excel.

So, if you're a beginning or casual spreadsheet user who doesn't need fancy charts or printouts, or if you need to share your data or collaborate online with other users, Google Spreadsheets might be for you.