The Internet is an essential tool for CPAs and business professionals. Accountants use the Internet for communicating within and without an organization; retrieving, processing and storing data; and researching issues, among other activities. Data and identity theft issues are major concerns, as evidenced by the IRS Security Summit (http://bit.ly/2g30Zhq), which has promoted multiple campaigns to protect taxpayers and tax professionals. The Identity Theft Resource Center reported in its 2017 Annual Data Breach Year-End Review that data breaches have reached an all-time high (http://bit.ly/2LK6QXw). Even large firms such as Deloitte have fallen victim to cyberattacks (Jeff John Roberts, “Deloitte Gets Hacked: What We Know So Far,” Fortune, Sept. 25, 2017, https://for.tn/2skQz35). The SEC’s Edgar system and the Equifax credit rating firm were similarly targeted in 2016. The AICPA’s CPA Firm Security Briefing (http://bit.ly/2kBKon1) made several suggestions to minimize firm cybersecurity risks, for example addressing Internet and computing policies, ensuring secure Internet connections, and being aware of threats such as phishing and malware.
The Utility of Search Engines
Search engines are websites that store data from other websites. Users navigate to them through their web browser of choice, and many browsers contain built-in search engines. Popular web browsers include Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Safari, Microsoft Edge, and Opera. The usefulness of a search engine depends on the relevance of the results it provides.
Multiple search engines identified in popular technology publications were tested for their usefulness to accounting practice. The search engines below were chosen for inclusion in this month’s column based primarily on their ability to generate useful search results on professional accounting topics, in comparison to a “control” search on Google. The topics chosen were lease accounting, revenue recognition, non-GAAP measures, qualified business income deduction, and Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 199A. Ideal search results would include professional journal articles; home pages for FASB, SEC, IRS and other regulators or standards setters; and, in the case of the new IRC section 199A, a direct link to the legal text [e.g., Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute (LII)].
The three search engines profiled can be set as the default search tool on many web browsers. They also have mobile applications available on both iOS (https://itunes.apple.com/us) and Android (https://play.google.com/store/apps). All were accessible and searchable on mobile device web browsers, if readers prefer to avoid downloading mobile apps, and the search results mimicked the desktop outcomes.
Bing (https://www.bing.com) is probably the second largest search engine in the United States, and represents Microsoft’s efforts to compete with Google. Yahoo, the most popular email provider, utilizes Bing, which actually makes Bing usage a little higher than it would appear by focusing on Bing.com alone. Bing is also a handy alternative for users of OneDrive, Word Online, and other Internet versions of Microsoft Office tools, as they can access their accounts from the Bing homepage. Bing provides a SafeSearch feature to filter out inappropriate content, along with other customization options.
The Bing computer-based search generated good results from professional bodies, government agencies, professional publications, and, in the case of section 199A, the text of the code on LII. It also provided useful suggestions for related searches. Similar to Google, Bing did tend to lead with Wikipedia or Investopedia links, as well as advertisements for commercial sites. The Bing mobile app was easy to install and pulled up similar results to the desktop search, generally minus the paid advertisements. Interestingly, although both desktop and mobile devices were used to search for and view videos, the Bing mobile search on revenue recognition was the only one that linked to videos.
DuckDuckGo (https://www.duckduckgo.com) is one of the most popular privacy-enabled search sites, promising “privacy, simplified.” It states that it will not track users, store their personal information, nor target advertisements to them. DuckDuckGo also aggregates results from Bing and other search engines while still providing anonymity.
Desktop-based search results did lead with advertisements (the only search engine tested to do so), as well as include Wikipedia or Investopedia links. It did not suggest optional search terms; however, it did retrieve the largest and best variety of on-point results. DuckDuckGo did yield good results from professional sources, including several not captured by Bing, and also found IRC section 199A on LII. DuckDuckGo does offer a mobile app for both Android and Apple iOS (https://duckduckgo.com/app). The iOS version was easy to download and use, but the Android version was not compatible with the devices used for this review.
StartPage (https://www.startpage.com) promotes itself as “the world’s most private search engine.” Formerly known as “IxQuick,” it is an independent search engine that also uses results from Google without Google’s tracking. Of the three search engines reviewed, DuckDuckGo and StartPage are the most security conscious, with StartPage being especially strict.
The StartPage mobile app was easy to install in both iOS and Android versions, and pulled up similar results to the desktop search. The desktop and mobile searches allow the user to limit the time period covered, which is helpful when looking for the most current resources. There were some differences between desktop and mobile, particularly regarding paid advertisements and a smaller number of results. StartPage provided the best results view on the smallest of the mobile devices used, and was the author’s overall favorite.
Of the three search engines reviewed this month, DuckDuckGo yielded the largest number of search results. Its mobile version was easily downloaded for the iOS platform but continued to show the advertisements found in the desktop-based search. Bing and StartPage produced interesting and respectable professional accounting research results. Their mobile versions were outstanding, and in fact easier to use than the desktop-based versions. If readers plan to use mobile devices for Internet searches, they may want to base their choices on a combination of their desktop and mobile experiences.