Data backup guide:  Is your digital life backed up?

What you'll get from this guide

A methodology for how to backup and store your data

And how often you should be doing this

Instructions for how to export your personal data

Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon.

01   What should you backup?

02   Gather your data

03   Store your data

04   Where to store your storage

05   Should you encrypt your data?

06   How often to backup

During our last webinar we fielded some serious questions about data backups, which was surprising because what could possibly be more riveting than talking about backing up data?  We also know it would be even less fun to lose all of your photos, videos and important documents, which we've seen happen more than a few times.

How do people even lose their data?  In most cases, human error is the biggest cause of data loss.  It turns out, we humans are pretty good at forgetting, misplacing, or even accidently deleting data.  For example, during the production of one of Disney Pixar's Toy Story series, an employee mistakenly executed a command that deleted the entire year's work.  The whole movie would have had to have been reanimated had it not been for one of the film's technical directors who backed it up to her home computer.

But even if your not concerned about human error, data can also be lost to viruses, mechanical failure, power failures, theft, fire, or even just by spilling a cup of coffee.  And if you can't recover it from another source, it's gone.

Luckily, we're going to show you how regular consumers should backup their data the right way.

01   What should you backup?

Most people think about backing up local files on their computer like photos, videos, and important documents, which are important.  But what about your emails, calendar appointments, contacts, or browser bookmarks?  Or what about all the other data you hear about these big companies having on you... your purchase history, location data, etc.?

 

Think for a moment about how you're accessing your email.  If you use Gmail then you go to gmail.com, and in seconds your emails magically appear from anywhere in the world on any device with an internet connection.  Those emails were not retrieved from your device, but instead by pinging Google's cloud servers.  Don't worry, your data is actually stored on a physical drive somewhere— it's just not your drive, and it's certainly not at your house (read HelpHerd's article on cloud storage).

 

So what would you do if one day when you login to gmail you discover that all of your emails have disappeared?  Or what about if all of your photos and videos in iCloud disappeared?  That would make most people feel sick, and a simple search online will reveal many examples of people losing very important data for various reasons ranging from human error to all out hacking.  If your data wasn't backed up locally then it's not certain you'll get it back, at least not without a lot of headache.

Consider backing up your entire digital life.

02   Gather your data

We're going to show you how to retrieve your data from the most common sources it might reside, but this is by no means a comprehensive list on where else you might store data:

Google

Google makes it very easy through Google Takeout where you can request a link to download everything Google knows about you.  This includes not only your email, calendar, contacts, photos and drive, but also other things like your browser history, location data, bookmarks, and much more.  We can walk you through it, but it's as simple requesting a link to download your data from Google, and then unzipping it to your desired method of storage.

Apple

Apple also makes it easy to get a copy of your data by logging into Apple's data and privacy portal.  This includes data that you store in iCloud such as contacts, calendars, email, notes, and more.

Microsoft

Microsoft doesn't make it as easy.  To get your emails, you need to go to Outlook.com, and then settings > general > privacy and data > export mailbox, and follow similar steps for calendar and photos.  You can also request an additional data archive, but Microsoft doesn't offer a way to do all of this comprehensively in one export.

Facebook

A lot of photos go straight from a camera to someone's Facebook profile, which means it's possible that Facebook is the only place those photos exist.  To download those photos and all other data from Facebook such as posts, comments, friends and more, go to Settings > Your Facebook Information > Download Your Information.

Amazon

Your Amazon orders, search history, subscriptions, Kindle and Audible books, and much more can be downloaded easily from Amazon's request my data page.  This will also tell you how much money you've spent on Amazon, which may or may not be a number you want to know.

03   Store your data

Having one backup is certainly better than none, but at HelpHerd we endorse the time-tested, 3-2-1 rule which states that you should keep:

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  • 3 copies of your data on

  • 2 types of storage media, and

  • 1 copy should be offsite

Examples of storage media could be your device's storage drive, an external hard drive, a USB flash drive or a solid-state drive (i.e., SSD).  If one medium becomes obsolete or degrades, you have another medium to the rescue.  And if you store another copy away from the other two then it ensure you will still have your data in case of theft, fire, flooding or some other disaster outside your control.

The best way to do this is to simply backup all of your data to one storage medium, and then plug in the second storage medium and transfer the files from one drive to the other.  If you would like your own private tech concierge to walk you through how to do this or to help you pick our the right storage devices for your needs, join the herd.

04   Where to "store your storage"

We recommend that you physically store your storage devices in the same advisable manner of keeping your social security card and passport locked away, which for most people is inside a locked safe.  For many people their digital assets are worth more than gold, and they should be stored accordingly.

Also keep in mind that many storage devices are no bigger than your thumb (e.g., USB "thumb" drive).  So if you throw it carelessly in the middle of a messy drawer, it's very easy for it to get lost if it doesn't get broken or stolen.

 

If you're storing an extra backup offsite, we recommend either a safety deposit box or your most trusted friend or family member.  The same principles apply—keep your storage devices locked away.

05   Should you encrypt your data?

There are tools HelpHerd can advise you on to encrypt your storage devices with a password, but we don't recommend doing that on your own unless you understand what's involved.  And even if we advise you on how to encrypt your data, there are other implications.

 

For example, sometimes the drive will need to be modified, and you might need additional software depending on the version of your operating system.  And even then, if you forget the password key then you can pretty much say goodbye to all your files.  Afterall, the whole point of encryption would be useless if it was that easy to break in.  There are ways to do, but it's only by spending a lot of money with a data recovery firm after some serious proof of ownership, and that's if you even found a reputable company to take your case.

So unless your concerned about your ability to keep your storage drives physically locked away, we don't recommend encrypting your drives.

06   How often to backup

Most tech experts recommend you to backup your data as often as you don't want to lose it, but that expectation is not realistic for most people because most people don't want to lose any of their data.  As you've seen, data is incredibly scattered nowadays, and sometimes you have to wait hours or days for it to be compiled.  Having to gather it up every week to put it on local storage is usually not sensible for the average consumer unless they're in the middle of a legal dispute or some other sensitive instance.

Every situation is different, but in general we recommend you start at a cadence that is going to be the most realistic for you, which for some people might be every six-months.  Once you build up the habit and have had a couple of successful backups, then you can commit to doing it more frequently.  Committing to a more aggressive backup schedule than your comfortable will not set you up for success.

If you're not regularly backing up your digital life, we'd love to help.

Join the herd.

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