In short, the lady who wrote to me was using Mozy.com's free service to back up critical files from her computer. She and her family tragically suffered a lightning strike to their home. She didn't provide all the details; but, obviously, there was major structural damage to the house, and many electrical devices were damaged or destroyed, including her computer. Dealing with the insurance company, hiring the contractors, and getting the work done required some amount of time. A new computer was eventually purchased and installed in the repaired home. However, when she went to restore her important files from the online backup service, those files were no longer available.
The reason is simple: Mozy.com (and most other online backup services) will only store data in free accounts for 30 days after the last update. In this case, my correspondent required more than 30 days to get the house repaired and to obtain and install a new computer. Her important backup data had been purged. I cannot blame her for being disappointed. However, I can also state that her experience was predictable.
The following is a copy-and-paste from the Mozy.com FAQ (frequently-asked-questions) at http://support.mozy.com/articles/en_US/FAQ/How-long-does-Mozy-keep-my-files:
How long does Mozy keep my files?Again, the above applies only to the FREE MozyHome service from Mozy.com.
[some text deleted for brevity]
MozyHome Free accounts are subjected to deletion after 30 days of inactivity.
If the Mozy.com subscriber purchases a higher-level of backup and pays a monthly or annual fee, the files are kept forever, as long as the bill is paid. If the subscriber doesn't pay the bill, however, all files are deleted 30 days after the due date of the first unpaid bill.
I believe those words were in the terms and conditions that each subscriber agrees to before creating a Mozy.com subscription. I realize that most people do not read the fine print, but the information was displayed to the new subscriber, who then decided whether to read the terms and conditions or not. In this case, she must have clicked on a check box that stated that she had read and accepted those terms and conditions.
I haven't checked all words in all the terms and conditions of all the other online backup services, but I suspect that most of them have similar words. Various companies might specify 30 days or 45 days or 60 days, but all backup services will sooner or later delete the data of inactive customers.
What should my correspondent have done to protect her data? The answer is simple: either keep making regular backups (which my correspondent could not do) or else pay for the storage being used by upgrading to a "Pro" account. Mozy and the other companies will never delete data from paid accounts, and I believe most companies will not delete data from current and active free customers.
I can't say that I blame the companies. After all, storing data costs them money, and I am always a bit surprised that they even offer free storage space at all. The expenses for storing an additional two gigabytes aren't huge, but the company does have to pay something. Multiply that by thousands of free customers and the costs are significant! I don't blame a company for purging data from inactive customers. From the company's viewpoint, inactive customers probably are no longer interested in the service or might even be deceased.
In this case, the discussion is about online backup services. However, I will suggest that similar policies exist for all sorts of free services, both on the Internet and elsewhere. Many companies use a "freemium" business model. (Freemium is a buzzword that means a company offers a combination of free and premium business services. That is, a company may elect to give away some services free of charge in the hopes that a percentage of those free customers will upgrade to paid services. Many Internet-based services use a "freemium" business plan, including this newsletter.)
Customers using the free services need to realize that they are getting what they paid for, and sometimes even more. However, there are never any guarantees that the free services will be available forever.
In the case of online backup services, the customers are receiving limited-time storage space in a company's servers. With Google's Gmail service, HotMail, Yahoo Mail, and other free email services, the "cost" of the service is that the customer sees advertising displayed. Both Google Mail and Yahoo Mail also offer upgrades to paid email services; a percentage of customers will take advantage of the increased level of service provided by the paid services.
You will encounter other shortcomings of free services as well. Free services typically are unable to provide direct, one-on-one customer support. Mozy.com, the Google Chrome web browser, the Firefox web browser, Yahoo Mail, LibreOffice free word processing software, and dozens of other free services or software are provided on an "as available" basis. In other words, there are no guarantees, and there is no customer support telephone number to call if you have difficulties. In contrast, paid services, especially the higher-priced paid services, almost always include direct customer support phone numbers and email addresses.
I love many of the various free services and products available today, and I use them frequently. However, I think I also understand the business realities: you always get what you paid for. Sometimes you get even more, but that isn't guaranteed. In the case of Mozy.com, I signed up for a Pro account and paid for my storage space. I know that Mozy.com will keep my data forever, assuming that I pay the bill on time. (I later dropped Mozy.com and switched to another online backup service I like better, but I now pay for that new service.)
As to backups, I have long recommended that every computer owner needs to have at least two copies of every important piece of data, and at least one of those copies needs to be stored "off site." That off-site location might be an online backup service, such as Mozy.com, or it might be as simple as making a copy to a CD or a flash drive and storing that copy at the office or at a cousin's house. Whatever the process, at least one backup needs to be saved off-site. I prefer to have two or three off-site backups, each stored in a different place.
If a person only has a backup copy stored in the same house as the computer, one lightning strike or one burst water pipe could easily destroy both the computer and the backup. Having one or more off-site backups is cheap insurance to protect your valuable data. However, if using any online service for any purpose, I suggest you read and carefully evaluate the terms and conditions before clicking on "I agree."
Online backup services are valuable, and I still strongly recommend them. I also use three different online backup services (one of them is free) to store my own files, plus I have offline copies stored in another location. However, I believe I also fully understand the risks and the benefits of each method of storage. I suggest you do the same.