Google shows that tracking backups is important too

Google recently discovered that it had not deleted all of the sensitive Street View data that the Australian Privacy Commissioner had told it to, but when was the last time we knew where all our information was, anyway?
Written by Michael Lee, Contributor

commentary Back your work up. It's been drilled in to us over and over again: make duplicates of everything, and keep them off-site, in the cloud, offline, or at least in multiple places. People sometimes pride themselves on it, saying that even if their office burnt down, they've still got another backup ... somewhere.

And that's the problem, isn't it? Storage is becoming so ridiculously cheap that on the surface, there seems to be no downside to making duplicates or triplicates of information, which is so easily lost.

If I take a photo on my smartphone, it's instantly triplicated — once on the phone, once as Google+ uploads it to Picasa, and then once more as Dropbox's own photo feature kicks in. And why not, right? Dropbox gives you 2.5GB of free space to upload photos, and Google+ has no limits, aside from resolution size or video length.

Combine that with an upgrade to my smartphone's operating system, and I'll probably make yet another backup "just in case", which will sit on my computer until I decide that I need to back it up too for an impending format. The absurdity only really ends when, in the hunt for more storage, I begin to realise that the space taken up by backups I made over a decade ago could be put to better use, and I'm too cheap to buy more.

I'm not saying don't back up or only restrict yourself to one level of redundancy, since multiple backups could have saved a business or possibly a Pixar movie from disaster, but it highlights the fact that copies need to be tracked, regardless of what sort of information it is.

Sensitive information is a fairly good place to start, I'd imagine, but companies sometimes even fail at this. Allphones left employee timesheets and a backup of its payments database unattended on a public FTP server, while AAPT forgot about a server it had at Melbourne IT that contained customer information.

But what about information that isn't sensitive, at least not at the time it is backed up to whatever number of services that are available? For example, what if I'm working on a critical IT project that, a year after completion, is found to contain copyrighted code, and the claimant is only willing to drop the lawsuit if I remove all references to it?

If Google's claim that it really didn't know what data it was collecting during its Street View crawls is true, you can't really blame the company for making multiple copies of the data or forgetting where it was stored. In all likelihood, Google probably has more than enough storage space to make as many backups as it likes, and making a backup would have been "the right thing" to do.

As a company that is built on search-engine technology, and should, presumably, be able to locate its own stuff, this is no doubt extremely embarrassing for Google. But make no mistake: I don't think the majority of us are any better.

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