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Home / Features / Apple, Google and others don’t care about your data and photos – but you should

Apple, Google and others don’t care about your data and photos – but you should

If you don’t have at least one backup of data you care about, don’t be surprised when it one day winks out of existence forever

Dead hard drive about to burn
Icon: Craig Grannell. Fire: LoggaWiggler.

I remember the first time I lost data. A floppy disk went extra floppy, wiping out a C64 ASCII animation I’d made. But for this tragic incident, I’d today be churning out animations so amazing they’d made Pixar weep. At the time, I was mildly upset, but it had never occurred to me to make a back up.

A decade later, I was battling an art college degree show deadline. Most friends were slopping paint about or hammering bits of metal, but I’d gone all tech. My plan involved a live, unrehearsed performance that used the department’s entire collection of TVs and VHS decks, a terrifying amount of cables, and a Mac. This would project animated elements on to a wall, triggered by me stomping on a custom pad a technician friend had made. Damien Hirst, eat your heart out.

By then, I had my own Mac too, with a built-in Jaz drive. Which one day started making horrible noises. In sympathy, the Mac’s hard drive keeled over too. By pure good fortune, one or the other would sometimes temporarily spring back to life, and I scrambled across the finish line with moments to spare – but it was close. And I still wasn’t regularly making backups.

Hard d(r)i(v)e

A Samsung SSD
Get one of these and plug it into your computer. That’s a good start.

Post-college, I quickly came to the realisation I had to earn a living. And it turned out there were few jobs for ‘artist who does very short live performances that use far too much tech and that are concerned about the increasingly cacophonous media landscape’. Imagine! So I fell first into web design and then into writing for magazines about all things tech.

Cue: incident the third. I was happily smashing out words when my external hard drive – where I saved basically everything – decided it was bored being reliable, and suddenly started making horrible noises. Perhaps it wanted attention. It got it. WHRRRR CKKK CKKK CKKK, it said. Repeatedly. As I fretted, knowing full well what would come next.

The disk unmounted. My Mac wanted nothing to do with it. I had no back up. The next few days were fraught, largely involving getting increasingly intimate with a copy of DiskWarrior, while I set about saving as much data as possible. Third time still-lucky? Mostly. I recovered the majority of my files and then resolved I’d never lose data again. I started making daily hard drive clones. Over time, my backup regime bordered on paranoia, adding Time Machine and off-site backups via Backblaze.

Out of Pocket

A cute dog
Stressed now? Calm yourself by looking at the cute doggie. AND THEN MAKE A BACK UP. (Image: PicsbyFran.)

It still wasn’t enough. It’s never enough. Most recently, my Pocket account inexplicably disappeared and Pocket’s support did the online equivalent of a shrug. I’d used the service to stash interesting web pages since 2010, but had never thought to export anything. And that’s the problem: the internet added another layer of complexity to backups.

Over time, gut-wrenching emails I regularly receive have shifted. Once, it was all readers begging for a solution to magic precious photos of their kids back into existence from a dead phone. Now, it’s more likely they’ll tell me iCloud photos have vanished, or that Yahoo! has, without warning, nuked an entire email archive, because the account owner had the temerity to not login for a year. 

All of which is to say: backup your stuff. Twice. And make periodic exports of anything in the cloud that you consider important, because you might one day visit to find that particular cloud has evaporated. Natch, it’d be nice if more companies would remind you to do the same, or automate backups in some way. But that would require them to admit catastrophic data loss is a possibility. And we can’t have that, can we?

• Now read: How to back up emails in Gmail, Outlook, Apple Mail and more

Profile image of Craig Grannell Craig Grannell Contributor


I’m a regular contributor to Stuff magazine and Stuff.tv, covering apps, games, Apple kit, Android, Lego, retro gaming and other interesting oddities. I also pen opinion pieces when the editor lets me, getting all serious about accessibility and predicting when sentient AI smart cookware will take over the world, in a terrifying mix of Bake Off and Terminator.

Areas of expertise

Mobile apps and games, Macs, iOS and tvOS devices, Android, retro games, crowdfunding, design, how to fight off an enraged smart saucepan with a massive stick.

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