I had to get the battery in my Macbook replaced recently. It had been on the blink and flashing a “replace soon” warning for at least six months, it was at 1500-odd cycles, and my whole top case was getting glitchy. My mic had stopped working and keys decided if and when they were going to register (and how many times) on a case-by-case basis. It was time.
For the uninitiated, replacing the battery in a Macbook Pro isn’t a case of opening a compartment and removing one part. Instead, the whole computer is opened up and everything attached to the top case is replaced—that’s the battery, keyboard, trackpad, mic, the works. Which isn’t a big deal because the logic board (motherboard) isn’t being touched, but Apple doesn’t promise your computer won’t get wiped in the process.
Fortunately that’s not a big deal for me because I keep nothing on my hard drive except program files that I can easy redownload. Absolutely everything else lives in the cloud. The magical, mystical place where photos and videos and files and goodness knows what else float around, waiting to be summoned.
As it happened my Mac’s memory was returned to me intact, and my files in the cloud remained synced and waiting for me. But what happens if the cloud goes down? What backups won’t I realise I need until it’s too late?
The first big crisis I experienced with information loss was Facebook Namegate. To recap, because there’s been a whole damn apocalypse since then, Facebook decided it was going to boot a ton of people, mostly drag performers, who didn’t use their “real” name on the platform. I and a couple of other authors got dragged into it for reasons I can take an educated guess at, and my account got locked.
Eventually I got it back, but suddenly being cut off from my archive of years of photos, updates, and friendships made me realise how lax I’d always been about backing any of that up. When my Facebook account vanished, so did everything I had uploaded to that account. Photos I didn’t have stored anywhere else blinked out of existence. It was gutting.
Fortunately all my information came back once my account was reinstated, and the first thing I did was download my archive. I now make a point of downloading an updated version every six months or so. These days what I lose to a Facebook (or Twitter, or Tumblr, or….) outage is less concerning because all my photos are stored in the cloud elsewhere, but I know if I lose all my social media, I have backups of anything that might be irreplaceable.
To download your Facebook history:
- Log in and go to Settings
- Click “Your Facebook Information” at the top left
- Click “Download your information” (second option)
- Choose the information you want to save, and press Create File
To download your Instagram history:
- Go to your profile and click the gear button
- Choose Privacy and Security
- Find the Account Data option and click View Account Data
To download your Twitter history:
- Click the … icon and select Settings and privacy
- Under Account, choose Your Twitter data
- Click the option to download your data
It isn’t just your social products that can be lost in a heartbeat. If you buy digital music, movies, or books, they can also be snatched away. Sometimes saving these is trickier than downloading your social media photos, mostly because what you buy when you purchase these items is a license to consume them, usually on the platform where they were bought.
If Apple decides tomorrow to close down its music store, or Amazon gets rid of streaming—or, more likely, they delete your account for some nebulous reason they never share with you—that could be everything you currently own gone in a blink.
While I can’t tell you how to jailbreak the files on every device and account, I would suggest you do the following:
Back up everything you possibly can
If you buy ebooks directly from a publisher, for the love of all that is holy, download them and save them somewhere safe. You never know when that publisher might go tits up. I use Calibre to manage my ebook library and back up all my files to a cloud drive, even though I read all my ebooks on my iPhone Kindle app.
You can also save ebooks to your Amazon drive by forwarding them to your Kindle email address. Just remember to have another copy somewhere else in case Amazon ever decides to close your account.
Have backups of your backups
I’m aware I’m straying into paranoia territory, but I trust Amazon, Google, Dropbox, even Apple, et al, about as far as I can throw them. My cloud backups are all backed up. You can buy storage for pennies these days. I use the following:
Google Drive (15GB free, then 100GB for $2/mo, 200GB for $3/mo, or 2T for $10/mo)
Dropbox (2GB free, then 2T for $10/mo, 3T for $17/mo—you can also get extra free storage by referring friends!)
iCloud (5GB free, 50GB for $1/mo, 200GB for $3/mo, and 2T for $10/mo)
pCloud (10GB free, then 500GB for $48/year or $175/lifetime, or 2T for $96/year, $350/lifetime)
There are tons more to choose from, so find the best drives for your devices and needs, and make sure you have duplicates of anything you’d be sorry to lose.
Stories and writing
As an author, the most important thing is protecting my work. Plenty of people work in Google Docs, which has the advantage of being instantly synced to the cloud and backed up. If you have a Gmail account you get an unlimited number of docs, sheets, and more, and if you want to keep backups make a throwaway Gmail account and copy your docs between the two. That way if you lose one account, you’ve still got the backup.
If you work in another program, make duplicates of your files and keep them in cloud storage. You can sync most clouds to your computer, so if I’m writing a story in Word, it’ll update automatically to my Dropbox, and from there sync out to another backup location.
If you write in a bespoke software like Scrivener, what happens if that goes down or you lose access? All those .scriv files are useless if you don’t have the software to open them. Export copies of your nonstandard file formats into common formats like .doc, or paste them into Google Docs as backups.
Photos and videos
Chances are you’re like everyone else and save your photos and videos to whatever cloud drive comes with your phone. I use iCloud to back up my photos, and also periodically open my files on a computer and back them up elsewhere as well.
Plenty of companies offer free or cut-price photo and video storage, including Google Photos (unlimited storage for images under 16MB/compressed, and <1080p videos), and Amazon (Prime members get unlimited photo storage and up to 5GB of video storage included with their membership).
The best part of photo-specific storage options is they have apps you can download onto your phone that automatically sync your new photos and videos without you having to worry about manually backing anything up.
Because nothing good ever came without a catch… There are privacy concerns with any online storage service. Google has been accused of using user photos to train its A.I. software and extract data about the places you go and the people you interact with. Facebook would sell your soul to the highest bidder given half a chance. And pretty much every major storage service has been hacked many times and user data breached.
The securest way to protect your information is to keep an offline backup. You can get a 2T external hard drive for $65, or splash out on a 8T hard drive for double that, and probably never need another backup subscription service again. Long-term, it’s the most secure and cheapest way of keeping your data safe, but does come with the downside that you need to spend more time managing your backups. Your hard drives are also only as safe as the location they’re in: if your house burns down, or a thief breaks in, you’re going to lose everything.
Personally, I try to keep at least two external backups of every file and photo I create, and automate as much as I can so I don’t have to worry about when something was last backed up. I also consider how secure I think each service is before deciding what information to store where. Google ain’t ever getting copies of anything related to my income or taxes, for example, but I don’t lose sleep at night keeping copies of my WIPs in my Google Drive.
When it comes to file security, I’ve learned the hard way that you won’t know how much you’ll miss something until it’s gone. Why not take half an hour this week and make sure everything you’d be sad to lose is protected.