(NOTE: in the time it took me to get this post ready for publication, Dylan did get his access restored. I will be following up with the conclusion of the story, which raises more points for discussion than I wanted to add to this post.)
I have been cautious with regard to the new wave of “cloud-based” services. I keep backups of all my data on my own media. And I’m sure some of you laugh at me as old-fashioned. Well, wait until you read this story.
A recent post to Consumerist tells the story of Dylan M. (he is identified only by first name in the article; the last initial is on his Twitter account) and the sudden deactivation of his Google account.
Dylan was a happy user of Google’s services for the last seven years, until 2011 July 15 when he found his Google account was deactivated. Dylan has lost “approximately 7 years of correspondence, over 4,800 photographs and videos, my Google Voice messages, over 500 articles saved to my Google Reader account for scholarship purposes… all of my bookmarks… over 200 contacts… my Docs account… my Calendar access… [which includes] not only my own personal calendar of doctor’s appointments, meetings, and various other dates, but I have also lost collaborative calendars, of which I was the creator and of which several man hours were put into creating… saved maps and travel history… my website, a [B]logger account for which I purchased the domain through Google and designed myself” according to his Twitlonger post.
Dylan goes on to write he has been a loyal fan of Google, encouraging the company he works for to use Google Business Apps and purchase storage with Picasa, and encourgaing his friends and family to open a Google or Gmail account and use Google’s Chrome browser. He also goes on to slam Google for behaving in such an abusive, monopolistic fashion.
Note that Dylan went to Twitter to air his greivances? Remember that at one point rumor was that Google was about to buy Twitter? This incident is a prime example of why such an acquisition would have been a disaster for the computing public. Thankfully, it didn’t happen.
So, how do we protect ourselves from what happened to Dylan? Back up your data to a storage medium you physically control, whatever that may be. Keep multiple copies of things that are truly important. Back up everything as though Google’s (or Microsoft’s, Apple’s, etc.) datacenters will lose everything for everyone (or at least everything for you) sometime in the next week.
At the very least, it is a bad idea to trust one company (such as Google in Dylan’s case) with everything. I’m not sure if one can, for example, run both the Delicious and Google Bookmark plugins without fear of conflict. I know that a Gmail account can be accessed via IMAP and backed up using tools such as archivemail for Ubuntu. I don’t use Gmail for truly important email, but if I did, I would back it up with
archivemail --copy --all and the appropriate URL and other switches.
If I am ever a significant adopter of cloud-based services at all, it will be a relatively late adoption. With the ubiquity of USB flash drives which can hold upwards of 4 gigabytes being easily affordable (some, such as this one made by LaCie even resemble a door/car key and can easily be carried on one’s existing keyring), I see no reason to put important data “on a server somewhere” which can go down when I least expect it. I have known of exactly two USB flash drives to fail during the timeframe I have used the technology; one (mine) was because I used it like a small hard drive for an Ubuntu install (it actually lasted for almost a year, though it did corrupt quite a bit of data during that time), and the other (my mom’s) failed due to a defective USB hub, apparently melting something plastic on the connector to the point where it won’t even insert into a USB port. My first USB flash drive, a 32 MB Memorex model (which at the latest probably dates from 2005), still works and has been used for everything from moving small quantities of documents to a boot medium as recently as this year.
That said, I still recommend optical discs such as CD-R, DVD-R, BD-R (recordable Blu-Ray), etc for long-term archival of data, particuarly data that should definitely not be changed after it has been written such as legal documents.
As noted above, Dylan did get his Google account back. However, the circumstances under which it was shut down deserve a rant of their own.
[To be continued…]