Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
Hi, everyone. Leo Notenboom here for askleo.com.
I got a question this week from someone who is having some problems with their email account, a complex situation, but ultimately they ended up wondering if they needed to get a new account.
Now they didn’t, but as part of the process, as part of their question, they asked if there was a way that they could back up their existing email in case they needed to move it to a new account. And that gave me pause, because well, is there a way to back up email? Absolutely.
In fact, I think it’s critical that you back up your email from your online email accounts. In my case, I actually back up two ways. I have, since I have my own server, my email address is actually run through my own server first, I have the advantage of being put something in place that actually captures and backs up the email as it arrives, but more practically, more pragmatically and perhaps more useful to the average user, what I also do since I access my email online all the time, my email is actually driven by a couple Gmail accounts, and my wife’s too as a matter of fact, what I do is I actually have a copy of Thunderbird on my desktop PC, and every so often, roughly once a week, I fire it up.
That’s all I do, because I have it configured to use IMAP to access each of the email accounts I want to back up. So what happens is Thunderbird then very dutifully, very quietly in the background, starts downloading all the email that had been, that has arrived since the last time it was run. What that means is that I have backup copy of all my email on my PC.
And in fact, of course, since I backup my PC, that then gets backed up a couple of other ways as well but the important thing is that my online email is backed up to my PC. Now, what this all really led me to believe or led me to realize is that while this person was asking a very fundamental question, “is there a way to back up online email?”, and of course, there is, but what I realized is that most people, I don’t think, even think about backing up online information, the data that they have stored in, “The Cloud”, so to speak and don’t kid yourself; anything you have stored online: email, pictures, documents, whatever, that’s all “The Cloud”, that’s all “The Cloud” really is – online services.
You are all using it and you’ve been using for some time before the came up with the marketing of “The Cloud” so we’ve all got information stored in online services: pictures, document and like I said, email is probably the most obvious; the easiest one to comprehend, because it’s one of those things that I think we all use.
You can’t trust the online service providers to back it up for you. Now, I immediately, whenever I say that, I immediately get push-back that says, “well of course the online service providers are backing things up,” and you’re right. They are, but I chose my words very carefully.
They’re not backing up for you; they’re backing up for them, so for example, if there’s a disaster at your online email provider, they have a way to restore services; they have a way to restore your email. Unfortunately, this varies dramatically based on the actual provider itself, but by and large, if you have a problem with your email, the back ups that the online service provider may have, are not there for you; they’re typically not something you have access to; they’re typically not something that the online provider will give you access to, and they’re typically not things that the online provider will use to restore something for you.
In other words, backing up is on you. Your online provider, they don’t have your back; they have theirs. So, there’s a lot of things that can happen that are not part of what you’re online service provider is going to consider their responsibility to protect you from. If your account gets hacked, and your hacker deletes all your email or all your files, if you accidentally delete an email or delete a file from your online service, heck, if the service itself goes out of business, now it’s not something we think about when we talk about the large services like the Gmails and the Microsofts and the Yahoos of the world, but it absolutely has happened, and when that happens, everything in that service, whatever service it might be, disappears.
Sometimes, there are even problems with the services themselves that, while technically they probably should provide some kind of restoration service from the backups that they have, they don’t. We hear about folders, for example, that go missing in email accounts from time to time, and the people who have lost their folders are absolutely convinced that it’s not because they did something by accident, and I have to believe that at least some of the time that’s true; some of the time the problem really is with the service provider but of course, especially when it comes to free services, the service provider isn’t going to take the time or even admit guilt to take the time and then restore whatever it is you feel you may have lost.
The bottom line is that if you’ve got stuff stored online, it’s on you; you need to take responsibility for backing it up. Remember what I keep saying over, and over and over again: If it’s in only one place, it’s not backed up. Your online service, your online email account, your online picture collection, your online document collection, your online whatever, is exactly and only one place.
You need to back it up, because if you don’t, you could in fact, lose it instantly without a chance of recovering of it for a variety of reasons. I’m not saying it’s imminent; I’m not saying it’s common; I’m not saying that there’s rash of accounts being lost this way. What I’m saying is that it’s possible; it can and does happen.
And it happens just often enough that it is critically important that you protect yourself in case it happens to you. Now, when it comes to email, email is really easy; email is simple. Like I said, doing something like firing up you favorite desktop email program, be it Thunderbird or EM Client or Outlook, Microsoft Outlook that comes with Microsoft Office (I want to be clear about that. Outlook.com is one of these online services, and your email is stored only online unless you take action).
Outlook from Microsoft Office is a desktop email program that actually can download your email and be used to create one of these backups that I keep talking about. There are many, many, many desktop email programs that you could use for this purpose. Those are just three.
Thunderbird is typically where I end up pointing people because especially for backing up, whether or not you like Thunderbird’s user interface, it’s free, it’s functional and it will create the backup that you need. Should something ever happen to your email account, you then have all of your email still safely stored on your PC that you can then access using Thunderbird and if you happen to like using Thunderbird, you can do that too.
What’s important here is that you take inventory of the information that you have stored online. The question you need to ask yourself is if that information disappeared, if you lost access to that account, if you accidentally deleted something in that account or something like that, would that be a problem? Would you lose data if something like that happened?
If the answer is yes, then you have that data in exactly and only one place and you don’t have it backed up. You need to take action; you need to take steps to back up whatever it is. Now, like I said, email is easy, other kinds of data, other types of service providers, not always easy. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes there are easy steps that are difficult to find. Sometimes there are difficult steps that are easy to find, but the bottom line is that I think everybody really needs to understand that when it comes to backing up, you can’t assume that “The Cloud” has your back; you just can’t.
It’s on you to back up your online data. It’s critical that you do so. So, as always, if you’re watching anywhere but on askleo.com, here’s a link to the article that has this video embedded along with moderated comments. I would love to hear, essentially, what are you using to back up your online world?
Are you backing up your online world? And if not, why not? Is it really that unimportant? Are you OK with losing everything should something happen? Or do you simply believe that the problem is overblown? Obviously, I don’t, based on the questions that I’ve been getting for the last thirteen years, but not everybody need necessarily agree with me.
So let me know what you think. Leave a comment down below. I would love to hear from you. I read them all. I can’t necessarily respond to every one of them but I absolutely do respond to them all and I really do appreciate what you have to say. So until next week, again, I’m Leo Notenboom. This is askleo.com. As always, remember, have fun, stay safe, and of course, don’t forget to back up. Take care.
Subscribe to Confident Computing! More confidence & less frustration -- solutions, answers, & tips -- in your inbox every week.
I'll see you there!