back to article HMRC ditches Microsoft for Google, sends data offshore

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is the first major department to move to Google Apps, part of an apparent loosening of Microsoft's stranglehold on the government's software services. The department will join the Cabinet Office and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in deploying the fluffy white stuff. …

  1. RyokuMas Silver badge
    FAIL

    "Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is the first major department to move to Google Apps, part of an apparent loosening of Microsoft's stranglehold on the government's software services."

    ... like exchanging a cobra for a black mamba...

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Mamba?

      Mamba is a cutie.

      What we have here ladies and gentlemen, is more like a golden lancehead viper

      1. Bloakey1
        Unhappy

        Re: Mamba?

        I would put it to you that a Coral snake would be more apposite. It has its imitators, it looks good but is a nasty piece of unpredictability and can kill you.

        I feel really good that all that data is going into the cloud off shore. It will be secure and beyond the reach of the US government and other ne'er do wells.Also pesky things like data protection no longer need to be enforced as local laws will apply.

        Well done tax man, why not put all our most precious data (NI numbers et. al.) in a place that is easy to get to and so inherently complex that inquiring minds will eventually access it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Mamba?

          Data protection? Dave's government doesn't care about that..

          Privacy? Dave's government doesn't like that...

          Security? Not in Dave's country, unless its designed to be broken..

        2. chris 17 Bronze badge

          Re: Mamba?

          The article just mentioned email and office apps, nothing about Ni numbers et al, although i am sure some will be sent in the general movement, its not like they will be hosting all the HMRC databases at google.

      2. Dabooka Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Mamba?

        @Voland

        "Mamba is a cutie.

        What we have here ladies and gentlemen, is more like a golden lancehead viper"

        I assumed the OP was refering to a big black sex aid, not the snake

    2. streaky Silver badge

      Easiest way to hand it off to the NSA for data mining, just store all tax data in the US (preferably at Google - it's not like they've publicly stated they've secured their network yet). Cheaper than setting up a dedicated HMRC->NSA link and no legal oversight needed.

      (seriously what's wrong with open office if your goal is to remove Microsoft).

      its not like they will be hosting all the HMRC databases at google

      Yeah I'm sure it's not possible that somebody at the HMRC has ever copy-pasted a crapton of cells into an excel doc filled with private information before. Oh wait I'm sure they actually have.

      1. Thomas Whipp

        FATCA

        you might want to read up on tax treaties, the US FATCA legislation means that the UK is already committed to reporting on any US relevant tax data in a format requested by the US.

        From a legal perspective companies within the UK are required to report these transactions to HMRC who then provides them to the US IRS.

        My guess is that from a national security point of view tax data just isn't that important (note that the article talked about information classified as OFFICIAL which I believe is the lowest level of government data - see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/government-security-classifications)

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: FATCA

          " the US FATCA legislation"

          Did you miss another T in that?

          1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
            Holmes

            Re: FATCA

            Did you miss another T in that?

            Not this is correct. As is the case with "PATRIOT" and "FREEDOM", USAnians like to have loud-sounding acronyms to cover a sordid reality. I suppose it was meant to be FATCAT but I guess that would have sounded too much like old-style german word-smithery about removing certain ethnic groups from premises, even in the current mindset of obtaining total state control over pretty much everything.

        2. streaky Silver badge

          Re: FATCA

          you might want to read up on tax treaties, the US FATCA legislation means that the UK is already committed to reporting on any US relevant tax data in a format requested by the US.

          From a legal perspective companies within the UK are required to report these transactions to HMRC who then provides them to the US IRS.

          *facepalm*

  2. BobChip
    Holmes

    So the tax man doesn't want to pay the Microsoft tax. Can hardly blame them for that. I'm just wondering whether the US Office of Personnel Management also keep - kept - their data "securely" in the cloud?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wolf to guard the sheep

    What better way to avoid Tax's than to be able to manipulate the data used to tax you

    "It's disappeared Guv, I was sure we had more paperwork on Google"

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    i bet....

    They are back on Office within 24 months and will have wasted millions trying to get the google tat to work. The google decision will have been driven by a bureaucrat try to make a name for himself by 'saving money'. Users will, as always, hate google apps.

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Gimp

      Re: i bet....

      Idiot MS users will, as always, hate google apps.

      1. GitMeMyShootinIrons

        Re: i bet....

        Sorry, but the Arch Info Peddler's data gathering apps are a hodge-podge of hobbled web apps. Office 365 frankly blows it out of the water. Gmail's web interface is a painful abomination.

        1. bitmapbrother

          Re: i bet....

          Well, at least Google isn't giving your data to the FBI and NSA on a platter.

          Microsoft is the worst abuser of privacy. Luckily, Edward Snowden revealed their evil.

          July 31, 2012

          Microsoft (MS) began encrypting web-based chat with the introduction of the new outlook.com service. This new Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption effectively cut off collection of the new service for FAA 702 and likely 12333 (to some degree) for the Intelligence Community (IC). MS, working with the FBI, developed a surveillance capability to deal with the new SSL. These solutions were successfully tested and went live 12 Dec 2012.

          March 15, 2013

          SSO's PRISM program began tasking all Microsoft PRISM selectors to Skype because Skype allows users to log in using account identifiers in addition to Skype usernames. Until now, PRISM would not collect any Skype data when a user logged in using anything other than the Skype username which resulted in missing collection; this action will mitigate that. In fact, a user can create a Skype account using any e-mail address with any domain in the world. UTT does not currently allow analysts to task these non-Microsoft e-mail addresses to PRISM, however,

          March 7, 2014

          PRISM now collects Microsoft Skydrive data as part of PRISM'S standard Stored Communications collection package for a tasked FISA Amendments Act Section 702 (FAA702) selector. This means that analysts will no longer have to make a special request to SSO for this - a process step that many analysts may not have known about. This new capability will result in a much more complete and timely collection response from SSO for our Enterprise customers. This success is the result of the FBI working for many months with Microsoft to get this tasking and collection solution established. "SkyDrive is a cloud service that allows users to store and access their files on a variety of devices.

    2. theblackhand Silver badge

      Re: i bet....

      I'll take your bet...

      Corporate e-mail pretty much comes down to three conflicting features:

      - cost. Cloud services offer per user costs that scales nicely with the business versus on-premises solutions.

      - security/control. Cloud services rely on international treaties/contracts between parties vs having it in-house under your control.

      - functionality. Do you want Google's search capabilities vs Microsoft's calendaring. Or maybe IBM's retro feel of this is how crap e-mail was in the 90's?

      Having used e-mail systems from all the major player's in large (20,000+ seat) environments and having seen the differences Google Mail maybe a good fit for UK government

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: i bet....

        Sure, email was never "cloud" based, everybody run their own SMTP server on each pc... I've seen "on premises" mail servers handling over 70,000 seats without issues... the only difference with GMail is the crappiness of the latter for any serious email user.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: i bet....

      Don't be so sure, we use it, our user satisfaction rate is higher with Google apps, they integrate much cleaner, we love it in IT, as it's more secure - local copies of docs arent being mailed around (users might think they are, but they are smart links). It really low support costs, and generally more functional, a user needed to create a spreadsheet of qrcodes, was a doddle in sheets, not possible in office without paying anther £120 for the ultimate edition...

    4. Colin Bain
      Mushroom

      Re: i bet....

      Hopefully for him/her, it will have gained them the promotion they so obviously need, before it all falls apart!

  5. Alister Silver badge

    Is this a paid version of Google Apps? If not, do HMG understand that Google may at any time pull the plug on their free offering, as they have done before with other services? Then what will HMG do?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Well unless they have less than 10 employees (i got it when it was 20), I think it will be a paid version.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The US government

    have just been granted access to all our tax records.

    1. Bloakey1

      Re: The US government

      Which they have just given to the Chinese government in a data sharing deal through the aupices of Military unit 61398..

      They had Einstein (intrusion detection system) protecting their networks and it decided that the Chinese hack was a friendly mundane event.

      Friendly Exocets and Radar in the Falklands anyone?

    2. hplasm Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: The US government

      have ALWAYS been granted access to all our tax records.

      FTFY

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The US government

      I guess you aren't keeping up. We already have all your tax information along with your emails, metadata around everything you do electronically, etc. ad nauseum. That's so we can share it back to GCHQ while they share all they have gathered in the US back to the NSA. Reciprocity. It's not just for war anymore.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    HMRC ditches Microsoft for Google, sends data to NSA

    on a dvd in a jiffy bag (by mistake)

    1. Chris King Silver badge

      Re: HMRC ditches Microsoft for Google, sends data to NSA

      You're also forgetting that they didn't put a stamp on it...

      1. Phil W

        Re: HMRC ditches Microsoft for Google, sends data to NSA

        Or a return address, meaning that it will end up sat in a Royal Mail sorting office, forever.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    Great idea...

    give business from the Tax department to a huge tax avoider.

    Next week, the MOD award the latest missile defence contract to a Russian / Chinese collaboration.

    1. spiny norman

      Re: Great idea...

      Don't bet against it, so long as it's cheap.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Longtemps, je me suis couche de bonne heure

      Re: Great idea...

      Microsoft is a much bigger tax avoider than Google and have been doing it much longer. I suspect this may be the one instance where Google copied Microsoft...

  9. Kane Silver badge
    Holmes

    Huh?

    "Ironically, HMRC is the same department tasked with implementing the so-called Google Tax"

    Well, what other department would be tasked with implementing a new tax system?

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Huh?

      They were never tasked with implementing the Microsoft Tax. Just paying it.

  10. nsld

    Why not

    Mandate that any business done with our government is by a UK entity paying all taxes in the UK.

    Especially as this data should only be hosted in this country.

    MIght be worth El Reg doing an FOI request for a copy of the BCR's they have in place for the processing and protection of the data, unless of course the Government is relying purely on the goodwill of the safe harbor agreement?

    1. JimmyPage Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Why not

      The problem with that (and it's been tried) is it quickly becomes a mandate for said UK entity to treble it's prices - and not worry too much about things "working" since the customer (UK plc) can't go elsewhere.

      Presumably you practice what you preach, so *you* only buy UK-sourced goods ?

      Those of us old enough to remember British Leyland shudder in horror at the mantra "I'm backing Britain."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why not

        It might also be illegal under European law.

      2. nsld

        Re: Why not

        @Jimmypage

        Any company can have a UK entity, Google has one but claims all its sales are through Ireland.

        I also think you are confusing sourcing of the actual item with the entity itself, using your logic importing would not exist.

        Its more about the ethics, the government lambasts Google for its tax practices and then buys stuff from them. Its a bit like the Costa/Nero/Starbucks conundrum with the way they choose to do business and avoid taxes via Luxembourg for Nero and Switzerland for Starbucks so I use Costa.

  11. Dominion

    Goodbye UK IT skills

    Final nail in the coffin of the UK IT industry then? Green light to offshore everything and put the majority of the UK IT sector on the scrap heap. Thanks Dave.

    1. Uberseehandel

      Re: Goodbye UK IT skills

      Its not just IT skills that are vanishing. All engineering and science qualifications are in decline. For example, the NHS is unsustainable without foreign clinical staff (doctors and nurses), which holds back the countries where these immigrant staff come from..

      It is no coincidence that there are very few scientific or numerate members of the House of Commons. The skills needed to make a modern economy function are notable absent at the heart of government.

      An economy that is based on manufacturing is more dynamic than one based on services, which have very little downstream benefit, often using imported furniture and foreign IT equipment in existing rented premises. Angela Merkel, observing Britain, once remarked "it will be interesting to see if you can run an economy based on cutting each other's hair." I fear the answer may be along all too soon.

      Offshoring the tax department ought yo be a matter of public shame. There are Pacific island republics that manage to avoid doing this..

    2. GitMeMyShootinIrons

      Re: Goodbye UK IT skills

      You're remarkably 'challenged' if you think things would be better run under Red Ed. We had a decade and a half under Labour and as much outsourcing carried on there as afterwards, only combined with a fiscal incontinence that would make a drunk Premiership footballer's wife look tight.

      The problem with technical skills in the UK is two-fold. Firstly, they've been devalued by decades of media/sports coverage drumming into kids that they should be the next gangsta rapper or superstar footballer. Secondly, those who do move forward with education aren't encouraged towards disciplines that might be of worth to the economy - funds are limited, and yet we pump out masses of media studies and art history graduates. In the past, students were able to get company sponsorship through university for relevant qualifications - uncontrolled government issue student grants (that, of course, became unsustainable, leading to loans) killed that and lead us to the current mess.

  12. graeme leggett

    Presumably - for sound tax avoidance technical reasons - the deal was negotiated with Google representatives from Ireland.

    For as we all know, there is no British Google entity with the power to make sales, lest it be seen that they actually make money in UK

  13. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Following the link in the article I came on this statement: "Careful legal and security assessments were conducted to establish whether the services were suitable for use at the official security classification in government."

    So who would pass them as suitable for security classifications. Read further and all is revealed: "We are operating a “yes-first” approach to open internet tools. This follows guidance from GDS on using these tools to help Civil Servants to be more productive. Web access is open to most services, and blocked where there is an established threat rather than by default. On devices (laptops, phones, tablets) we provide a basic checking service before making apps available for users to install. This makes sure that the applications are trusted, compliant and have an appropriate level of security for use at OFFICIAL.

    Applications our users are actively using include Evernote, Trello, Workflowy, Twitter, Eventbrite and many more."

    GDS. That explains it all.

  14. wikkity

    Start worrying when

    Google ads start recommending you a an accountant

  15. AndrueC Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Does this mean that next time I need a Tax Code adjustment I'll be able to sort it out with a single email instead of three emails and four (failed because I could never get through) phone calls?

    No. I didn't think so.

  16. Joe 48

    Hang On

    Is this legal? I thought all Gov Owned PI information had to remain in the EU.

    My letter explaining what they do my my personal information must have got lost in the post.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hang On

      "Is this legal? I thought all Gov Owned PI information had to remain in the EU."

      Call me naive, but some government IT people are pretty switched on, and I find it hard to imagine that they wouldn't have arranged for the government Google Apps instances to be hosted on UK, or at least EU, based servers. This isn't like your free gmail account with ads.

      The credibility Google gets from this is such that I imagine they are very, very anxious not to screw up.

      1. Andrew Wigglesworth

        Re: Hang On

        "The acceptance by HMRC that they can store official information offshore in Google data-centres represents a major change and endorsement of Google’s approach to managing sensitive information."

        - UK head of Public Sector Sales, Google, wroting on Linkedin.

        You don't in fact seem to be lacking in imagination. You imagined a whole scenario of "pretty switched on people", rather than the reality of a craven government intent on more and more privatisation and damn the consequesnces.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hang On

      No, it doesn't but if it does go outside the EU, you have to do due diligence on your arrangements. And since NSA can read anything on Microsoft's servers in any country, I suspect we should be more worried about that.

  17. Mike Bell

    The Cabinet Office currently has 2,500 users on Gmail

    Meaning: The Cabinet Office currently has 2,500 users whose communications are being scanned by Google.

    Nice. Am I dreaming this?

  18. Davidmb

    To all the people commenting about tax evasion:

    Remember that back in 2001 the Labour government sold their offices to a Bermuda-based company, which they have leased back ever since.

    When your entire department is dependant on (legally) tax-avoiding arrangements, it's hard to take a moral stance against it.

  19. JP19

    "carefully considered the protection of customer information"

    We asked Google and they told us they have lots and lots of well paid consultancy work for high ranking ex-civil servants. After careful consideration we decided Google should get our business.

  20. crayon

    "We have carefully considered the protection of customer information and this remains our highest priority"

    So they did a high priority consideration and decided no protection was needed.

  21. crayon

    The NHS could do with some Google TLC

    Staff seem to spend more time on paperwork than on patient care. Each member of staff that comes along asks the same questions and fill in the same forms that had already been answered to the previous member of staff. There's little coordination within a ward and less between wards and departments, and practically none between sites of what is nominally the same hospital.

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