When a Cloud Service Vanishes: How to Protect Your Data

More and more, we rely on Web services as a matter of course. The key word is rely: We assume that the data we upload to, say, a photo-hosting account or blog service today will still be there tomorrow. In large part, that's because we assume the services themselves will still be there tomorrow.

By Serdar Yegulalp
Wed, August 10, 2011

Computerworld — More and more, we rely on Web services as a matter of course. The key word is rely: We assume that the data we upload to, say, a photo-hosting account or blog service today will still be there tomorrow. In large part, that's because we assume the services themselves will still be there tomorrow.

But over the past few years, we've seen plenty of examples of sites that are here today and all-too-gone tomorrow -- for example, Friendster (which dumped user data for a redesign in May) and GeoCities (which shut down in 2009).

Mitigating the Risk of Cloud Services Failure: How to Avoid Getting Amazon-ed

In other words, nothing lasts forever. The Web services that we entrust with our data can -- and do -- vanish. And when that happens, you need to have a plan. In the following pages, I'll take a look at some cases where user data was lost or endangered, how the companies (and their users) handled the situation, and what you can do to keep your own information safe.

Don't let this happen to you

Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of services that have shut down, changed hands or simply lost their data.

MySpace. The slow death and muddled rebirth of MySpace -- once a fiercely popular social network, overshadowed by the rise of Facebook -- raised a lot of questions about what would happen to existing users' data and whether or not there would be an easy way to bulk-export any of that information.

MySpace did set up what has been described as a "data-portability initiative" back in 2008. But this seemed not so much for the sake of exporting data from MySpace as allowing consistently reused contact information to be automatically filled in across sites. Worse, the terms of service for MySpace developers explicitly forbids creating applications designed to export user data to another service. That hasn't stopped people from creating scrape tools for MySpace such as Make Data Make Sense's blog-export utility.

Google (GOOG) Videos. After Google's acquisition of YouTube in 2006, Google Video seemed as redundant as a second navel. By 2009, the ability to upload new videos was shut down, although concerted protest by users kept Google from shutting the service off entirely so that any videos still there could be archived manually. Those who had spent money on Google Videos' download-to-own/-rent program found access to their purchased content gone, although those with outstanding credit in the system could have that transferred as funds to Google Checkout. (Later, Google announced it would also offer credit card refunds; in April 2011, it announced that it was keeping Google Video content up indefinitely, until all the remaining videos could be moved to YouTube.) As with some other closed Web services, the issue wasn't just the content but the existing user investment in the site, in multiple senses of the word "investment."

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