Likelihood of Dropbox deleting my files?
March 26, 2013 12:49 AM   Subscribe

I use a free Dropbox account for loads of stuff and I think it's a great service, but I currently only use 70% of my allowance and don't want to fork out for pro. However, I recently read the Ts and Cs of free account and see that they can delete my files whenever they like. Eek! I find it pretty unlikely this would happen, but how big a risk do you think it is? Is it worth paying just for the security, or is it so unlikely that I can continue with free service and peace of mind?
posted by KateViolet to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This doesn't directly answer your question, but I keep very important files on both Dropbox and Google Drive, partly for this reason. The likelihood of both deleting my files is small enough to put my mind at ease.
posted by third word on a random page at 1:19 AM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

The likelihood over the time that you use Dropbox is very high. Why? Because you have at least one computer connected to Dropbox, and that computer will at some point have a problem - a virus, or whatever, and it will or could delete or corrupt your files. For every additional computer or device you have connected, this ups the chance.

For this reason you need backups that are separate from your computer. Make sure whatever backup program you use backs up your Dropbox folder on your PC.
posted by devnull at 1:38 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think the likelihood is impossible to estimate in practice. There are a lot of things that could happen: technical failure; security breach of your account; security breach of DropBox's authentication system; RIAA/MPAA shutdown à la MegaUpload... nobody, including DropBox themselves, has the data to estimate the probabilities of all these.

I think a good starting point would be to ask yourself what level of risk you would be happy with. Let's say we've managed to calculate that there's a 2% chance of losing all your DropBox files at some point during the next 5 years. Imagine someone fanning a deck of cards at you and asking you to pick one. If it's the ace of spades, then all your files will evaporate at some unknown point between now and 2018. Would you be OK with taking that chance? Personally, even if the risk were 0.1%, I would consider the minor invonvenience of maintaining local backups as a worthwhile investment. But everybody will have a different answer to the question "what's your data worth?".

Free online storage services shut down all the time -- just look at to see how much data is going down the plughole evey year. DropBox are currently big and successful enough to be one of the safer bets, but then again GeoCities went from "#3 site on the planet" to "lights out" in ten years. It's a volatile world.
posted by pont at 1:52 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

It is so extraordinarily unlikely such as to be considered functionally impossible. Unless they were to magically go out of business. This is just a manner by which they can hold themselves harmless if something were to happen while you were using their free service.

They utilize Amazon Web Services for their durable file storage, and likely additional archiving tools that are separated. Their durability rating is in the 8 9's range: 99.999999% of durable storage. In fact, I don't think AWS S3 has ever reported data loss due to any system failure at all.

Moral of the story is I wouldn't worry, but feel free to also sign up for Backblaze for comprehensive system backups for $5/month as an added layer of protection.
posted by disillusioned at 2:03 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Unless they were to magically go out of business

And in this case, since your data is actually stored on your computer (it's synced via Dropbox, and backed up to Dropbox, but the actual data is still on your computer too) you won't have actually lost anything unless your computer simultaneously dies.

That doesn't stop something like a virus from deciding to delete everything from that directory, which will sync up to Dropbox and then back down to your other computers, removing them from everywhere as devnull says.
posted by BungaDunga at 2:07 AM on March 26, 2013

File synchronization in the cloud, while it can be a tool of backup, is not a real backup. (Sort of similar to why RAID is not backup, though Dropbox is solving a different problem). Your files can get wiped out by human error, viruses, etc., because Dropbox allows those errors to propagate to all your devices. Yes, Dropbox maintains 30 days of file history, but what happens if you don't notice the problem over that time period?

Run your own, separate, backup (i.e., to a USB attached drive or to S3) that retains backup images for a very long time (keeping, say, monthly, quarterly and yearly copies; let Dropbox deal with the daily copies for up to a month). Look at Dropbox as a convenient sync service, and nothing more.
posted by chengjih at 2:31 AM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think people are missing the single point of failure here: every computer that has Dropbox installed, and therefore full access to Dropbox has the potential to trash everything you have.

Impossible? No, easy. Imagine a Dropbox virus: it deletes your Dropbox folder, then it uses the web interface to permanently delete everything.

Do backups.
posted by devnull at 2:33 AM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Nthing that the risk of Dropbox deleting your files is much lower than the risk of deleting them yourself by accident. I did that yesterday and the deletion started propagating immediately to another computer. I could retrieve the folder from the trash but that was a close call.
posted by elgilito at 2:43 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also paying for pro doesn't solve the problem. Those terms are in the pro agreement too.

Also, I was in the camp of thinking the scenario everyone is outlining here of propagated deletions that you don't notice until after the month you can roll back was unlikely. Until it happened to me yesterday. I would have lost an entire folder of six important files that had been corrupted in all six of my machines if it weren't that I had a laptop fail about two months
ago and so it hadn't connected to the web since then, but the hard drive was still accessible.
posted by lollusc at 3:48 AM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think it's helpful to recognise that however it's marketed and as fabulous as it is, Dropbox is not backup: it's cloud storage that makes it easy to access your documents from multiple devices.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:26 AM on March 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I mentioned this worry to Mr. chiefthe. He has, in the past, done a mirror of the dropbox folders on our home setup to a USB drive to protect against such an eventuality. He said he needs to start doing that again...thanks for reminder!
posted by chiefthe at 6:01 AM on March 26, 2013

Just to note - if you go through the web interface of dropbox, there is the option to un-delete deleted files. I've used it to restore things I accidentally deleted a couple of times.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:37 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not clear why you think a Pro account would be any different, but anyway yes it could happen by mistake at their end or by mistake at your end, so I agree with the other person who suggested putting important files on more than one online storage site. In addition to Google Drive you could also consider Logmein's new service called Cubby. If you want an online backup service you could try CrashPlan which is cheap but not free.
posted by Dansaman at 7:55 AM on March 26, 2013

I am pretty sure they have that language there in case they need to do something, but I have been using Dropbox for years and it always keeps my files synced and safe. The files in Dropbox are local on your machine, so even if they were removed off the server, they should still be able to retrieved on your computer, if Dropbox was unsynced during removal. You can also undelete files and restore previous versions of files, which is helpful, unless Dropbox suffers some sort of meltdown. Still, anything really important that you want long-term, I'd definitely back up on a hard drive.

I absolutely love Dropbox, find incredibly useful and have never had problems.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:00 AM on March 26, 2013

A good option is to leave your important files and folders where they normally would be if you didn't have Dropbox, and then make a copy of them into the Dropbox folder. That also has the added benefit that applications find their files where they expect them without any tweaking on your part.

On Windows, the free Microsoft SyncToy is one way of doing this.

Some instructions here on how to use that, and how to set up things so that the backups are made automatically rather than having to remember to do it manually.

Equally SyncToy and its like can copy your important files to an external HDD or USB stick, and its probably a good idea to do that as well.

If you should want to copy your whole Dropbox to another cloud service, BackupBox does that. I haven't tried this myself but it seems to be well recommended.
posted by philipy at 9:42 AM on March 26, 2013

Seconding DarlingBri on this: Dropbox is great. Dropbox is fabulous. Dropbox is NOT a backup solution[*]. Paying for Dropbox does not change this.

USB removable disks are cheap. Like seriously cheap. (First hit at Newegg: 4TB for $150! Wow. Back in my day, when I was walking uphill both ways in the snow...) Rsync is free. Keep your own regular backups, preferably unplugged and at a different location than your computer.

[*] Certainly cloud backup can be - should be? - part of your backup and recovery solution, but never the only one.
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:27 AM on March 26, 2013

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