You Should Back Up Your Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter Accounts
Photo by Christopher Robbins/Digital Vision.
When I first heard of Backupify a few years ago, I thought the service sounded unnecessary at best. The company promises to back up the data you’ve stored on various online services, scooping up all your mail and contacts from Gmail, your calendar entries from Google Calendar, plus everything you’ve got on Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, Flickr, and LinkedIn.
I have long been an advocate of frequent backups, but that term is usually reserved for stuff you’ve got stored on your own computer. A backup creates an extra copy, either on an external drive or online, so that when your machine bites the dust, you won’t be hosed. But Gmail isn’t stored on your own computer (you might have downloaded your mail to your desktop, but unless you’ve explicitly deleted your messages from Google’s servers, they’re still online). And Google is very good at backing things up. Like other firms that store data in the cloud, Google keeps many copies of your stuff on thousands of computers across the world. This redundancy is one of the cloud’s biggest selling points. Even if you keep your photos on three different hard drives in your house, they’re still vulnerable. (What if you’re burglarized?) But if one of Google’s data centers gets hit by a meteorite, your data will always be secure in some other center somewhere else.
That’s why Backupify sounded fishy—it seems to do what cloud services already do. It doesn’t help that the firm wants you to pay for the service, too. The company offers a free plan with 1 GB of storage, but if you want to back up even more of your cloud data, Backupify asks for $5 a month for 10 GB of storage or $20 for 50 GB. Remember that the services you’re backing up—Gmail and the rest—are free. So Backupify is asking you to open up your wallet to back up an already backed up free thing. Do they think you were born yesterday?
But in the last few weeks, I’ve seen the light. I now consider Backupify an essential part of keeping my digital life secure. In fact, signing up for its free plan is as important as choosing strong passwords and regularly backing up your local data. And, for my own data, I’m going to go even further. I’ve decided to pay for Backupify’s monthly plan to get enough space to secure all of the stuff I have in the cloud.
Why did I suddenly change my mind about Backupify? After a string of high-profile cloud mishaps, I now realize something important about how Google and other companies store people’s data. Even though the search company saves my email on multiple machines, that doesn’t really mean it’s backed up. Google’s redundancy does protect my stuff from natural disasters or mechanical failure, but it doesn’t do anything to secure my data from its worst enemy—me and other devious human beings pretending to be me.
Backupify, on the other hand, is your savior in the event of human error. If you subscribe to the service, your stuff isn’t really ever gone for good—not when you lose your data because you’ve been hacked, not when you forget your password, not because the cloud service kicked you out, and not because you just accidentally pressed delete.
Rob May, Backupify’s co-founder and CEO, says that he got the plan for the firm in 2008 when he was talking to friends about startup ideas. Someone told him, “Hey, you should build a Flickr backup tool.” May says his first reaction was like mine: “I thought it was a dumb idea.” But the more he thought about the idea, the more sensible it became. Lots of friends told him they were losing data in the cloud, either accidentally or through some attack. And once the data was gone, it was gone.
Farhad Manjoo is Slate's technology columnist and the author of True Enough: Learning To Live in a Post-Fact Society. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter.