Almost certainly not.
If your data is kept only with that one online provider — be it email, online photo albums, online music collections, generic “cloud” storage, or more — there’s a good chance you really have no backup at all.
The key is this: the backups online services make aren’t for your protection at all; they’re for the provider’s.
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All online services have backups
It’s a very poor service provider that takes no backups at all. While it happens, it’s usually discovered immediately prior to that service going out of business. I expect it’s often the cause of that service going out of business.
It’s safe to assume that major online service providers — email, cloud storage, and the like — all have backups of some sort. They have hundreds, if not thousands, of servers, and store terabytes of customer data that is almost certainly backed up on a regular schedule. Their equipment breaks down just like yours, and it’s extremely important they not suffer data loss when it does.
For an online provider to lose data due to a problem under their control is inexcusable. Hence, they back up. A lot, and very likely in many different ways.
Those backups are for their needs
Here’s the catch, though: those backups, in whatever form they take, are for their purposes, not yours.
Their backups are to protect them.
If their servers die, they can use their backups. If their software fails, they can use their backups. If their employees make a mistake, they can use their backups.
On the other hand, if you make a mistake and delete a file, get malware, or suffer hardware failure, the service provider’s backups aren’t going to help. They weren’t made for you.
There are two cases where your service provider’s backups might serve more than the service provider itself.
First, they could choose to use their backups as part of a customer-facing restore option.
I’m not aware of any that do. None.1
Second, if law enforcement comes along with a warrant or court order, the service provider may be compelled to hand over their backups. This varies tremendously based on the provider, their location, and the jurisdiction of the requesting court or agency.
I suspect this happens with some regularity.
How to tell if their backups are useful to you
I mean that literally: “permanently” delete a file, an email message, a photo, or a song, and then try to use the online service’s provided tools and resources to recover it.
I’ll bet you can’t. Even though you know it’s backed up somewhere, somehow, by the service provider.
“If it’s in only one place, it’s not backed up.”
Your online service counts as one and only one place.
Never, ever, assume anything else.
Even if they did provide some kind of backup-and-restore feature, what happens if the provider suddenly shuts down? It’s happened, and if it does, both your online data and any online recovery service they offer are both gone in an instant.
The only safe approach is to take control of your own backups.
- If your email is all online at one provider, use a desktop email program to back it up.
- If your photos are all online at a photo storage service, make sure to save copies before you upload.
- If your music is all stored online, make sure to download copies.
- If your data is only stored in any kind of a cloud service, make certain that it is also downloaded to computers you control, and back up those computers regularly yourself.
- If you maintain a web site or other online presence, make sure to back it up yourself, in addition to whatever your web host may or may not provide.
The only backups you truly have are those you control yourself.
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