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Integrity lost
SECURITY SHELF

Integrity lost 

According to their web site, “Toggl is the leading online time tracking tool, which is extremely popular among freelancers, consultants, and small companies. It allows users to track the time spent on various projects and analyze productivity. It’s cloud-based and can be up and running from scratch in less than a minute. You can use Toggl on the web, as a desktop widget or on your mobile – all your data gets synced in real time.” The company boasts, “1,556,842 productive Togglers.”

The primary purpose of Toggl is to track time, and there are only a few reasons for an individual or business to use it. On time and materials contracts, accurate time tracking is essential for billing purposes, and the consequences of under- or over-billing customers are significant. On fixed-price contracts, time tracking is important to monitor profitability and more accurately cost future work. In either case, data integrity is essential.

I recently had the misfortune of choosing Toggl to track time for some projects I am working on. My initial impression was very positive. The company has a slick website. Their iOS app is attractive and easy to use. Click the start button, tell it what you’re working on, and it tracks the time spent on the task. Forget to start the timer? No problem, just enter the data after the fact. The company seemed to have the right idea; do one thing and do it well.

In late May, I checked my weekly report in the Toggl iOS app. It showed zero hours. Switching back to the time entry screen, I verified that was not the case. Then I logged into the Toggl web site, and found that only data before May 20 was there. Suspecting a bug, I immediately took screen shots of both browser and iPhone data. On the iOS app, I logged out and back into the app. Data after May 20 had vanished.

Disappearing data in a time tracking system is an extremely serious problem. I contacted Toggl support, supplied them with screen shots, and received a prompt reply:

“Thanks for getting in touch, we’re really sorry you’ve lost data and I’ll explain what we believe has occurred. We recently released an update to the iOS app which unfortunately introduced some unforeseen bugs including some involving syncing. When entries haven’t synced and the app is closed/logged out/uninstalled or updated, those unsynced entries can be lost. The good news is we have an update that is due to be released imminently that should go a long way to resolving some of these issues. If you do encounter any syncing issues in the future, we recommend making a note of them so you can manually reenter them later if those entries are lost. We apologise for the inconvenience and annoyance this has caused. We are working on revamping the way we sync entries so this sort of issue doesn’t occur in the future.”

In response to a further query, the company relied that, “we do try to warn users whenever we can but this bug occurs in only a few cases,” and that “our latest update v7.1.6 has just been released and should resolve this bug.” According to the Apple app store product page, the updated version includes five changes, one of which is “small sync bugs fixed.”

During application developments bugs do occur, but cases like this illustrate three critical points. First, primary product functionality needs to be thoroughly tested prior to release. In some applications, data integrity is critical. A data synchronization failure in a time tracking application is not a small bug; it is a significant failure in primary application functionality that has the potential to adversely impact the customer.

Second, silent data synchronization failures are unacceptable. In mobile applications there are factors beyond the developer’s control, including network connectivity. A good synchronization scheme will automatically retry and do everything possible to recover from a failure. But there is no excuse for failing to notify the user.

Third, in the event that a bug slips by, the company’s response directly impacts their reputation and customer relationships. Companies who value their customers proactively notify them of issues that may impact data and offer solutions. It is sometimes difficult to admit that there is a problem, but doing so with honesty and integrity demonstrates an understanding and respect for the customer. On the other hand, failing to notify customers and downplaying lost data as a inconvenience erodes trust.

Have a security question you’d like answered in a future column? Email eric.jacksch@iticonline.ca

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