A Cautionary Tale About Why You Shouldn’t Use Dropbox For Backup

This week’s Tech Tip is a cautionary tale. Using Dropbox as your sole backup can be dangerous. I recently became aware of an incident that occurred in the summer of 2014. A user of the free version of Dropbox lost about 8000 files related to his PhD dissertation due to a bug in Dropbox’ Selective Sync feature. This web page provides the full story if you’d like to know the details.

Dropbox’s primary function is as a file-sharing service. It can be a convenient way for a user to access the same files from two or more computers that he or she uses. The service can also be a way to share files on either an impromptu or on-going basis with friends or colleagues. Dropbox also happens to store previous versions of files. The free version of Dropbox stores previous versions for 30 days and the Pro version stores previously version indefinitely, I believe. This is a handy backup system but I don’t consider it a thorough or complete backup system, so it shouldn’t be relied on exclusively. In my opinion a comprehensive backup system is automated and consists of redundant backup applications which create multiple backups both on-site (within your home or office) and off-site (outside your home or office).

Reportedly, the bug that lead to the deletion of thousands of dissertation-related files has been fixed and only occurred under a very limited set of circumstances, so it’s rare. That said, this type of situation could occur again and highlights the limitation of using Dropbox as a backup solution, especially the free version.

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