Why Are We Still So Poor At Backing Up Our Personal Data?

Cyber crime attacks such as viruses and ransomware – where the criminal locks the user out of their computer by encrypting data until the user pays a release fee, which is typically in the region of several hundred pounds – are becoming more commonplace, and in any case paying the ransom doesn’t always guarantee that the criminal will honour their side of the deal. With the ever-present possibility of hard drive failure and the risk of computer theft, loss or accidental damage adding to the list of hazards of computer ownership, I conducted a survey to find out how often people are prepared for all eventualities by taking the one simple step of backing up their computers on a regular basis.

Of 2000 adults surveyed across the UK, nearly a third never back up their computers at all, or do so less than once a year. Considering the amount of photos, financial information and other important data that people store on a daily basis, it is easy to question whether a yearly back up is even worth the effort. With figures recently released by the Office of National Statistics showing that computer-based crime now accounts for more than 50 per cent of all crime in the UK, it is worrying to find that many adults in the UK are simply not backing up their computers or laptops at all.

Of most concern, however, is the fact that the highest timeframe score for UK adults backing up their laptops or computers was ‘NEVER’, at roughly 25 per cent. This was consistently the highest time frame score across all ages, gender and geographical locations, and showed that people do not realise how important it is to back up on a regular basis.

Most of us now create, store and showcase our photos digitally, and the demand for printed copies has dramatically declined as people move to displaying their pictures on tablets and digital photo frames. It is therefore not surprising that Boots recently announced its plans to shut down 220 of its 320 in-store photo labs across the UK due to lack of demand for its traditional photo printing services. Nonetheless, in the past, we carefully stored our printed photos in expensive albums and made sure they were out of harm’s way. So why are we not protecting our digital photos so prudently?

Since so many people do not back up their computers, I was not surprised to find that 500 people in our survey reported losing highly valuable data that they were unable to retrieve. The majority reported losing photos (365), with many stating that they were devastated at their loss. A number reported completely losing years of photos of their children growing up, close family members that were now deceased and photos of important life events such as people’s own weddings, religious ceremonies, 18th birthday parties and once-in-a-lifetime holiday trips. One respondent reported losing over 20,000 photos from 18 holiday destinations, whilst another lost five years of photos of her son growing up, as well as photos of her deceased grandfather – lost forever because she simply never backed up her computer.

The second highest reported loss was school course work and university essays, with over 70 people reporting irretrievable work, including 15 nearly completed dissertations and three PHD thesis. 26 people also lost creative work, including nine who lost books or novels they had written, four who lost music they had composed and 13 who lost unique, creative work such as graphic design projects or artwork. One person lost 16 years, their apparent life’s work of amateur photography, due to hard drive failure.

There are so many ways to back up computers or laptops quickly, effectively and often for free these days, that there really is no reason why so many people are not getting the back-up message. Perhaps it is an indictment on the technology and retail sectors for not communicating the importance of regular back ups clearly enough?

Depending on how much information you want to use and store, there are a number of free and cost-effective options to choose from. You can fork out a meagre £10 for an external hard drive, or back up using a free cloud storage service such as Dropbox, GoogleDrive, iCloud or Microsoft One Drive. For those with lots of important information, there are also paid versions of cloud services which offer more storage, as well as other online services that charge a small monthly fee, such as CrashPlan, Backblaze or MozzyPro. Most services allow you to automate the process, so you don’t even have to think about remembering to back-up once you’ve gone through the initial set-up.

We all spend our hard-earned money insuring our cars, homes and even our own lives or those we love. Given the fact that for generations, the one possession that most people would save in a house fire is their priceless photos, it is quite baffling that computer users are not taking any necessary precautions to ensure they can retrieve their precious photos easily should anything go wrong. As we increasingly store our whole lives on computers, it is imperative that people get the message that we all should back up our valuable data regularly. Why put your treasured memories at risk for the sake of a few simple clicks?

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