The following report describes a bad experience of a guy with Dropbox:
An user, Jan, started using Dropbox back in 2009 and has always loved the service. Over time, he kept moving more and more files to his Dropbox folder and eventually had to upgrade to the Pro plan to keep up with the space requirements. In particular, he moved there all of his photos in order to be able to view/share them on-line and also to have them backed up. In April of this year, a hard drive in her laptop was running low on space so she decided to use the Dropbox’s Selective Sync feature to unsync some large directories from the laptop. Because there was never any problem with the service and also because it’s already the year 2014, he thought it might be about time that one can trust a cloud-based storage service and use them as a sole backup of their files.
But he was wrong.
On 29th April 2014, Jan opened the Selective Sync dialog, unchecked directories called 2003, 2004, …, 2014 from the Photos folder (and few other directories) and clicked the ‘Update’ button. After that, the Dropbox client froze and didn’t show any sign of life for a couple of minutes, so he decided to kill it and restart it again. These directories are large and they might be too big of a bite for Dropbox, he thought, and unsynced them one by one instead. Everything worked well, the directories disappeared from the local hard drive, but they were still available on Dropbox’s website.
About two months later when Jan was preparing for a defence of her PhD thesis, he was looking for an old presentation but couldn’t find it. The directory was there but it was empty. He would have never deleted these files, something must have gone wrong. He contacted Dropbox support which then broke the news to him: there was a delete event of 8343 files from 2014-04-29 at 14:57:30 GMT (UTC). Looking at the log record from this event, he realized most of the missing files were her photos! All the directories were still in place but many of them were empty, as if Dropbox randomly deleted some files and left some others intact. Jan was devastated. All those memories were gone.
Jan decided to share this story publicly for three reasons:
- A bit of publicity might convince Dropbox to put some extra effort and maybe find a way to restore his files.
- To let other Dropbox users know about this issue so that this doesn’t happen to them. Basically after doing any major changes in Dropbox settings, one should check the Events page on Dropbox website to make sure no files got deleted.
- Dropbox team can use information from this story to fix the problem. Here are few suggestions what can be done:
a) Make the application of the selective sync settings transactional, either is succeeds completely or fails gracefully.
b) Enable the Packrat feature by default for every paying customer, without any extra cost. Looking at the storage plan pricing for Google Drive, there surely is a space for you to do that. Or, at least, keep the delete history as long as the deleted files fit into user’s quota, it’s a space users already paid for.
c) Use machine learning to detect a strange activity on user accounts and notify users by email if it happens. For example, most of my activity over the years consists of adding large number of new files and changing/deleting a small number files from time to time. A sudden deletion of 8343 files is surely a strange activity in this context.
Below, here you are the Dropbox’s support reply :
“Many thanks for all the feedback. Yesterday night I got an email from Dropbox saying that they worked with their engineering team and were able to restore 1463 files.”
After that he received some credit for the future use of the service. Better than nothing.