Why I am Scared of the Verizon Wireless Sync; And You Should be Too

By Kris Kumar on Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ever since BlackBerry introduced the push email technology for delivering emails to the mobile device, others in the industry have tried to offer the same. Microsoft, Good Technology, SEVEN Networks and Visto are the few companies that come to mind when I think about push email and wireless sync of contacts, calendars and tasks. Some like Microsoft, Good and BlackBerry offer server based sync functionality; what it means is that your corporation or email provider has to install a special server to enable mobile sync. On the other hand companies like SEVEN offer something called the desktop re-director, which installs on your desktop that has access to the mail server. Unlike the server based solution which centralizes the sync functionality for all users on to one system, the desktop re-director approach requires each user, who wishes to perform sync, to install the solution on their computer. I myself rely on Cingularís Xpress Mail which is powered by SEVENís technology. There are features I wish it had but I am comfortable with the current solution. Recently I got the chance to try out Verizonís Wireless Sync solution. Armed with the Moto Q and a new Verizon account, I effortlessly installed and configured the Wireless Sync solution to synchronize my email, contacts, calendar and contacts. I was happy to see that the calendar entry that created on the Q showed up in the Outlook on my desktop computer. Emails were being delivered to the inbox on my device within seconds of them arriving in my Exchange based mail box.

The happiness was short-lived as I realized how the solution was working behind the scenes to perform the synchronization. The Verizon Wireless Sync is based on the desktop re-director approach. This application kept tabs on my Exchange based account and monitored it for any changes like new email or new calendar item. This is something that most of the desktop computer based sync solutions do, including the one from SEVEN. The big difference was that instead of synchronizing the information directly with the mobile device, like in the case of the SEVENís solution, the Verizon Wireless Sync was sending all my personal information to a server hosted on the Internet by Verizon.why are they keeping a copy of all my information to begin with? This approach is not IT friendly. In fact I found out later that our IT department does not like this sync software for this very reason and they will take action against anyone found using this software.

Some might argue that it is okay for Verizon to store the information up on their servers as along as the sync functionality is provided and it works flawlessly. I donít think I can argue with that point. The solution does work well and I donít think I had any issues with the sync itself. Also there is an advantage, unlike the other systems like Cingularís Xpress Mail, where I have to keep my desktop computer running all the time with the re-director software to access the information; with Verizonís system I can view the last synchronized information anytime, even when the desktop software is not running. So if you are okay with it and your company is okay with the way it works, then there are no reasons not to like it. Well almost, what happens when you decide to terminate your cell phone account with Verizon? Or if the cell phone is provided by your work place and you have to return it or transfer it to someone else. Donít you think you should be allowed to delete all your personal information before you terminate the account? You will be sorry to hear that there is no provision in the Wireless Sync system for the user to delete their personal information using a couple of clicks. I spent a long time on the phone talking to the technical support specialists:
Verizon Tech Support wrote:
"We apologize that we do not have a simplified procedure in place to purge your Exchange information for you. You can clear you Wireless Sync account data by deleting information manually or by calling in for assistance with deleting the account from the server. If you cancel your service the account will be automatically deleted from the server."

What they recommended was deleting all my emails, contacts, calendar items, tasks and notes I-N-D-I-V-I-D-U-A-L-L-Y. I had more than 100 emails, around 300 contacts, 20 tasks, 28 notes and I donít even know the total number of calendar items. I deleted all of them page by page using the Wireless Sync web interface, using the ďcheck-allĒ option on each page to select the items, and then deleting the items using the delete button; but when I got to the calendar items, I got stuck as there was no list view for me to select a page full of items and delete them. Verizonís answer was to visit each day in my calendar and click the little trash icon next to each calendar item! The only other alternative was to wait for up to 48 hours after I cancel my Verizon service and then the Wireless Sync account will get deleted automatically. This approach will not work if you were transferring the phone to someone else or returning it back to your workplace. Needless to say I gave up on the idea of deleting the calendar items manually and decided to leave the calendar items in the account, and prayed that the Verizon servers will do a good job of cleaning the information when they terminate my account.

Security does not mean adding firewalls to a server and encrypting userís personal data. Security is about making the user feel comfortable with the system and feel in control of their information. That is where Verizonís system fails. Another thing I found by accident was that in case you install the desktop re-director software on another computer and hook it up to another Exchange account. The dumb Wireless Sync software running on the two desktops will sync with the common account on the Verizonís server and guess what, it will sync the information between the two Exchange accounts. You will end up with the emails and other information from the first Exchange account corrupting the second account and vice versa. The software does not even warn the user, when it is configured on the second desktop that the information on the Verizon server belongs to a different email/Exchange account. I would have expected the software to detect the presence of two accounts and prompt me with a question before proceeding with the sync. It can be seen as a feature; to me it is a hassle and a security risk. Corporate users and IT department should take note of this fact and ensure that the data is wiped clean before handing the phone to another worker.

While every system or solution has its own set of flaws, I like to be in control of my information; I do not like my personal information to be duplicated on systems that I do not have control over. In fact I like to keep the number of copies to an absolute minimum. That is why Verizonís Wireless Sync scares me and if you are using it, then you should be concerned too.

Last 3 articles by the same author
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