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Re-Backup Now, or Risk Eternal Torment

Posted on Wednesday, January 24th, 2024

Dave!TL;DR... if you have any data at all on Apple's servers, particularly iCloud Drive, you need to get it off of there or perform a backup immediately. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Immediately.

Forty years ago today, Apple shipped the first Macintosh computer.

Today-today, Apple technology has resulted in my losing hundreds of files... some I've been able to recover on old computers and in ancient backups... some I found in local backups from a month-and-a-half ago (so they're partially recovered)... and some I've lost permanently, because they were ever only on iCloud.

Both of the Apple Support specialists I've talked to thought it important to tell me that "iCloud Drive is not intended to be a backup." And it's like, yeah, I know this. Which is why I have a desktop iMac with iCloud Drive synced, and Time Machine turned on. Except I found out the hard way that unless the files are actually downloaded to the iMac, they are not backed up. And, of course, despite having a shitload of free space on my iCloud Drive, Apple doesn't keep backups of older versions of files. Dropbox may be a pile of shit, but even they do that. So not only does Apple not do that, they don't tell you they don't do that.

Here's a serious of events that lead to now.

  • A month and a half ago, I decided to offload a bunch of files off of local drives because I was running out of space. Because I've grown to hate the pile of shitty bloat that is Dropbox, I upgraded my iCloud Drive space to the 2 terabyte option for $9.99 a month because there wasn't a 500 gigabyte plan. All my files were transferred. Given that they would always be in the cloud, I thought it was safest to work on them from there. And everything was working great.
  • Two days ago I had an iPad that's been powered off for six months. I decided to charge it and update it to the new iPad OS that just came out that day.
  • Yesterday I went to load a file I've been working on. I couldn't. I looked on iCloud Drive and saw it was 0 bytes. A bunch of files were 0 bytes. Files that had been many bytes... even gigabytes... just days ago.
  • I chatted with Apple Support in a panic as files were dropping to 0 bytes in Real Time as I watched. They couldn't help me. A call was arranged for 7:30am this morning. This is also when I found out that my iMac wasn't backing up iCloud Drive files as I thought it would be.
  • I turned off my iPad just in case that was the cause. It wasn't. Files continued to drop to zero. I disconnected all computers from the internet so that I wouldn't lose anything else overnight.
  • This morning I spoke to an Apple Support agent. Technically, my files weren't deleted, so recovering them on the iCloud website's "deleted files tool" wasn't possible. Not that it matters. Not even the files I didn't need could be recovered. Every time I try, I was told "There was a problem loading restorable files. Please try again later." I tried later seven times.
  • The Apple Support tech told me there was nothing they could do, and that I should download and manually back up all my iCloud Drive files.
  • I started downloading files, but some files were being zeroed out before I could complete the download.
  • So I called back, desperate for any ideas which might save my data. No ideas were to be had. I was told that the best option was to update to the latest OS all my computers and devices, then give Apple permission to try and recover files, even though it may end up doing even more damage and cause even more data loss. So I did the best I could to save what files I could as they continued to be destroyed. The good news is that I found out the more files I downloaded at the same time, the slower Apple was at ruining my data. Apparently iCloud Drive can only do one thing at a time. Lucky me.
  • I managed to get as much of my data copied off iCloud as possible. I then updated all of my devices. Tomorrow I'll ask Apple to go all nuclear option on my iCloud Drive in an attempt to recover some of my lost data. Which may mean that they end up destroying everything.
  • Tonight I took stock of what, exactly, I've lost. A bunch of photos I thought were gone forever (including my high school graduation, photos of my grandmother, and my trip to Egypt with my mom, among others) were actually backed up Plex, thank God. But a bunch of Hard Rock photos from my early days are gone (though some lo-res images were published on my blog, so there's that). But all the writing I've done for the past month-and-a-half is gone (though I have backups of these files from before that). Stuff I wrote years ago and haven't touched in years is gone though. Research I've been working on for decades is gone. Vector files for my later DaveToons are gone. Future tattoo ideas I drew up are gone. All the digital versions of my mortgage, banking, and the digital documents I saved for my mom's care are all gone. Every last note of the music I wrote for advertising in the 90's is gone. All the maps I drew for my old "DaveWorld" site are gone. It goes on and on.

So, yeah, not ideal.

But it could have been so much worse.

And for that I'm grateful, though I remain absolutely outraged at Apple. The company has BILLIONS of dollars. Yet they won't devote a fraction of that to safeguarding the data their customers entrusts to them. Instead they want me to know that it's my fault because I should have backed up... even though I thought that's exactly what I was doing by having a large, pricey Time Machine hard drive hooked up to a Mac that's synced to my iCloud Drive. If only Apple could be bothered to warn people that the obvious way you'd think things would work are not, in fact, how things actually do. I guess, in the end, they just don't give a fuck. Which is probably why they have billions of dollars in the first place.

I remain hopeful that a lot of stuff I've lost can ultimately be recovered. Whether because I find it on a drive or computer or a backup somewhere... or Apple is able to do something tomorrow.

Hopefully the REAL backups I'm making now (instead of the unreal backups I thought I was making) will prevent this in the future.

Because I sure don't even want to go through this again.

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Categories: Apple Stuff 2024Click To It: Permalink


  1. omfg that’s devastating!!!!!!

    I have to confess I’m a bit of a luddite and simply don’t trust the cloud. Especially not Apple cloud. I backup my phone manually once a week to my local hard drive and download my photos off it at the same time independently.

    The only thing I really use the cloud for is for “lightning is coming” – I have OneDrive mapped and so I can copy the most recently edited files as an offsite backup in case my computer gets fried before I’ve had a chance to do my weekly backup.

    I truly hope you’re able to get some more of your files back, must be an absolutely sickening feeling šŸ™

  2. theQueen says:

    Thank you. Iā€™m sorry you had to go through this. I backed up my book. Now I have an urge to print it and to make hard copies of every digital photo because what if saving on my ipad ends up being the equivalent of saving on a floppy disk someday?

  3. Ouch! I think my I-pad only backs up to the cloud. Everything else has two clouds and a desktop drive. My former office lost 126,000 folders a year ago – that was just for my department – a server failed and someone messed up the backup (pressed the wrong button.)

  4. JFC. Sorry to hear about all that. My god. And now I’m slightly worried because both my wife and I only have iCloud backup enabled on our iOS devices. Which you’d think would be solid. But with your examples, possibly not.

    • Dave2 says:

      They’re not. Furthermore, Apple doesn’t care that they’re not. I hate Dropbox with a passion, but it’s a paradise compared to dealing with Apple on iCloud Drive.

  5. martymankins says:

    Ok. Catching up from your original post.

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