phone laptop illustration

“Here’s how to protect your data, so you don’t lose yours like I lost mine“

It may not be the most glittering date in the diary, but World Backup Day on 31 March serves to remind us about a very vital bit of life admin. You’ve been warned, writes Mia Lyndon. 

Imagine losing all of your digital data. Treasured photos from your school days, 2am brainwaves jotted down in Notes, videos of that night out, voice memos from a beloved family member – all gone forever. Sadly, I don’t have to. As I write, I’m hitting the ‘Save’ button every 30 seconds; my document is simultaneously backed up to a USB stick, the cloud and my hard drive. I have every reason to be so cautious – I’ve learned the hard way.

Late last year my (frankly, ancient) iPhone finally went to Tech Heaven. During a gym session, one last smack to the ground marked the end of our long-term relationship. That phone was the guardian of all of my digital belongings; encased within its scratched, water-damaged façade were years of memories, all of which were irreplaceable. It’s where I kept my photos in their thousands and the precious contact information of friends and acquaintances from yesteryear. It had everything I needed, from nudges telling me to cancel online subscriptions to reminders about when my rent was due. It contained my life. But none of it was backed up.

phone laptop illustration

Like all of us, I had been warned – my phone was on its last legs and I knew it. Carrying around your precious data on a handset that’s older than TikTok is like sitting on a chair held together with tape. But I’d convinced myself that I just didn’t have the time to ‘back up’, so those notifications were repeatedly ignored. And whenever I did attempt it (which, truthfully, was only once or twice) my phone would die, a friend would call or I’d get far too engrossed in Instagram to bother.

But when I lost my data it felt like I’d locked my keys inside my house. My belongings, familiar and indispensable, were suddenly no longer mine to access. It was awful. So why do we have this mental block about what is clearly a crucial task?

According to Dr John Blythe, the director of cyber psychology at Immersive Labs, it’s the lack of urgency – the ‘if’ – that keeps us putting it off. “Backing up our own data requires time and effort – these are very precious mental resources right now, which is why it feels like a chore,” he says. “It is difficult for people to visualise what they gain from backing up. There is no visible, tangible outcome or reward in that moment.”     

Rather terrifyingly, one in five individuals who never back up their computer’s data will lose it all eventually, according to cloud storage company Backblaze. And it’s not just the inconvenience that’s a kicker; as our lives become more digitalised than ever, losing data can feel like losing part of yourself.

“We use technology to help us do what’s important to us: checking how many likes we got on our latest Instagram post, browsing the internet for recipe ideas or doing the latest Wordle,” says Blythe. “But it also helps us reminisce – think about the popularity of Facebook Memories or sharing your yearly Spotify Wrapped. This stuff helps us to create new social bonds with people that we connect to and give meaning to our lives and identities.”

In short, our digital data really matters, and believe me, losing it all in one fell swoop will hurt. But if you’re feeling a rising sense of panic, fear not: there are a few simple things you can do to ensure your digital fate is not quite as drastic as mine. *Hits Save* 

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How can you protect your data?

1. Get on the cloud

A huge regret of mine? Failing to add my photos to the cloud before my phone went up into the clouds itself. Now, I use Google Photos to automatically catalogue my pics across multiple devices and iCloud for keeping my contact information safe. These types of providers often offer free storage up to a certain data limit. If you surpass this, you’re usually looking at paying only a couple of pounds a month.

Alkas Ali of DiskEng Data Recovery Services explains why this is your safest bet. “You shouldn’t really encounter loss of data when using the cloud, because it has multiple layers of storage. Whichever provider you’re using, they will have copies of the data as a secondary backup.” Essentially, cloud providers know that the only thing better than backing up is backing up twice.

2. Don’t let the sun go down

A ‘data sunset’ isn’t as pretty as it sounds – it doesn’t involve sipping a mojito during golden hour. Instead, think total data destruction.“This is where online services deactivate and delete accounts that users haven’t accessed for some time,” explains Blythe. To avoid this, take note of the location of your photos and documents and keep an eye on them.

“Regularly check your backups to make sure they’re still running and that the data you’re expecting to be present is there,” recommends Blythe – you can do this with a few clicks in both Google Drive and iCloud. And folders are your friend – organising your data by date, for example, means it’s less likely to get lost in the ether.”

Alkas also recommends copying your data onto an external USB hard drive – an oldie but goodie – to avoid falling victim to a data sunset. “If one device fails, gets stolen or broken, the hard copy is there.” 

Phone in a sunset
A data sunset means imminent data destruction

3. Be kind to your tech

It turns out that data is delicate. When it comes to a laptop, it’s important that you protect your hard drive from too much shake, rattle and roll. Alkas has one crucial rule: don’t move your laptop when it’s on.

“One of the most common ways that people lose data on a laptop is as a result of the hard drive starting to fail,” he says. “It generally starts deteriorating because the laptop has been knocked or dropped too many times.”

For mobile phones, it’s a bit more tricky. Electrical issues or malfunction of the memory device, according to Alkas, are the most common cause of death for phones. While your phone can survive the odd drop, extracting its data once it does give up the ghost is tougher (and more expensive) than it is with a laptop. So get your phone’s data onto the cloud before anything else.

4. Do the bare minimum

If, after all of this, you’re still not prepared to back up, no judgment – there are a million more fun things to do, like watch paint dry. But there is still a way you can safeguard the stuff you really don’t want to lose without actually doing the chore of backing up.

Alkas suggests this: “Leave [your data] as it is, on whichever device it’s on – whether that’s a phone or whether it’s your laptop – but at least have duplicate copies of the most important things within that device. It’s not the best plan because if you lose that device, it’s gone, but at least it saves you from a situation where you’ve accidentally deleted or misplaced something.”

Better than nothing, right? Now go forth and back up.

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Images: Getty