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Sidekick Users See Their Data Vanish Into a Cloud

A server meltdown over the weekend wiped out the master copies of personal data -- including address books, calendars, to-do lists and photos -- accumulated by users of T-Mobile's formerly popular Sidekick smartphone.

This computing calamity allows Sidekick owners only a faint hope of backing up the information currently on their devices, and none of recovering anything they'd trusted to online storage. And it leaves T-Mobile and the operator of the Sidekick's data service, a Microsoft subsidiary formerly known as Danger, Inc. -- oh, the irony! -- with some serious explaining to do.

A statement on T-Mobile's site phrases things a little more bluntly than the average exercise in corporate groveling:

Regrettably, based on Microsoft/Danger's latest recovery assessment of their systems, we must now inform you that personal information stored on your device -- such as contacts, calendar entries, to-do lists or photos -- that is no longer on your Sidekick almost certainly has been lost as a result of a server failure at Microsoft/Danger. That said, our teams continue to work around-the-clock in hopes of discovering some way to recover this information. However, the likelihood of a successful outcome is extremely low.

The statement goes on to instruct Sidekick users that they should "NOT reset their device by removing the battery or letting their battery drain completely, as any personal content that currently resides on your device will be lost." A frequently-asked-questions file contains a handful of suggestions, such as copying a Sidekick's contacts list to its SIM card, while a third-party site outlines a laborious process by which you can e-mail your contacts list and notes to your computer, one person and one file at a time.

This isn't the first time a Web service has crashed and left its users without access to data stored "in the cloud," as Web-services evangelists like to describe their approach. Earlier this summer, users of Google's Web-hosted e-mail, calendar and documents applications were shut out of their data for part of a day.

But it is one of the few times a cloud-computing vendor didn't have any backups -- even though the Sidekick's design leaves users without any easy way to copy their data to their own computers, and even though Microsoft and Danger should have known to run a new backup cycle when a bout of service glitches set in the week before Sidekick users' data vanished down the bit bucket. It's one thing for a distracted, inexperienced person at home to forget to back up data until it's too late; it's another for a company with the resources of Microsoft to make the same mistake.

This oversight has observers stunned, infuriated or both.

Cloud computing ought to survive this disaster -- especially among vendors smart enough to document how their users can take their data with them, as Google has begun to do.

But Microsoft must be regretting the $500 million or so outside sources estimate it spent buying Danger in 2008. Not only has that acquisition failed to yield a Microsoft-optimized Sidekick successor (even as Danger alumni have gone on to do good things with Google's Android and Palm's web OS mobile-phone software); now this fiasco, combined with its woeful Windows Mobile 6.5 software, will, at the very least, make for some awkward conversations the next time Microsoft tries to persuade a wireless carrier to invest in a new smartphone platform.

T-Mobile, in turn, can only wind up getting kicked in the teeth by this epic failure. Its "Stick Together" motto now reads more as a futile plea to Sidekick users who are understandably running to the exits, and for whom it will have little choice but to waive any early-termination fees.

As for Danger and the Sidekick itself, I have only one word: goodbye. The Sidekick had already seen its prospects dim, as its once-impressive software stagnated over the past couple of years, but this offense should terminate its viability in the market. Most likely, the only further contribution the Sidekick can make is to serve as a warning to others.

Sidekick users, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. So should the rest of you who rely on one Web service or another -- have you evaluated a site's options to download your data anytime lately? When's the last time you did that yourself?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  October 12, 2009; 11:17 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets  
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Comments

I am not a T-Mobile user, and, while I find it inexcusable that a company such as Microsoft would fail to have a workable backup, the incident only emphasizes why nobody should wholly trust important data to the cloud. Between the loss of the data to the bit bucket and loss to hackers, is the convenience worth it? I've seen failures of backups and breaches of security in the largest of enterprises as well as failures of backup in my own home. Even so I leave the sensitive data at home and try to have a backup of my own for anything less sensitive that I do leave in the cloud. It's not just Microsoft - it's all of us. Also, what an irony in the name, "Danger" - Wow!

Posted by: Arlington4 | October 12, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Can we not blame this on Microsoft? Gosh they just bought danger last year. I suppose making it a Microsoft-related story raises the profile.

Anyway, I feel so sorry for the folks with Sidekicks. Not just for this SNAFU but for having had to deal with such a crappy device for so long.

In terms of redress, all T-Mobile has offered is a free month of data service. I think there ought to be a class action suit against T-Mobile and Danger. They actively encouraged their users to rely solely on Danger for backup of their data. Now the data is gone because Danger forgot to do something as routine as backing up before upgrading their storage system.

Posted by: tundey | October 12, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Tough noogies.

That even more blunt and to the point?

Posted by: oracle2world | October 12, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

This is such a surprise since Micro$oft has marketed such great products and shown such high regard for their customers over the years (cough cough).

Posted by: hairguy01 | October 12, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Here's an idea. Go back to memorizing your data or better yet, write it down. We put way too much trust in technology and the companies that manage it.

Posted by: Meichele | October 12, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

We should always have a backup. Google delayed services on its account recently and now its Microsoft.

Posted by: NancyK4 | October 12, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Until about 3 hours ago, I had used a Sidekick for about six years, and for the most part liked it, though suffered through some of T-Mobile's coverage issues. This episode has been worse than bad, though. I lost over 500 contacts, hundreds of photos, notes and other important information. T-Mobile's response has been silence thoughout this whole thing. They did nothing to warn users that loss of data was possible, even over the 11 days that they have been having bad problems. They could have easily sent all users a text message warning them of what could come. The first thing I did today was buy a Blackberry. T-Mobile, you deserve to go under for this.

Posted by: mlb718 | October 12, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

I have been a T-Mobile Sidekick user/customer for over 4 years. I have always loved my Sidekick and everything it does. This recent data loss is such a huge disappointment. Not only have I lost every single contact, picture, and calendar entry that I have acquired over the past 4 years, I’ve also lost all the ringtones, apps, and games that I have spent hundreds of dollars on. There is no valid excuse for this drastic loss. So many people including myself have entrusted T-Mobile with important data, and have spent thousand of dollars over the past years for the storage of their information. I want to know how T-Mobile/Microsoft is going to compensate me, and if I can file a valid lawsuit against them. Something needs to be done immediately.

Posted by: wtfitsmesarah78 | October 12, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

A childhood not-so-misspent watching a lot of great escapist TV junk taught me NEVER to trust all data to the computer. Computers can be unplugged, reformatted, damaged and stolen. Data can be erased, corrupted and altered by magnets, heat, surges, hackers and artificial hubris (Hi Hal!)

While unfortunate for Sidekick users, this is a reality check on cloud computing.

Posted by: skylinr | October 12, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Microsoft is the biggest bear in the woods. A year is more than enough time to fix up the company they bought. They just were not paying attention.

Posted by: kilkea2 | October 12, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Wah
Wah
Wah
Wah
Waaaahhhh....

Posted by: enogabal | October 12, 2009 4:10 PM | Report abuse

This story has yet to make any sense. The primary storage for data is typically hard disk drives. Even accepting the reality that Danger was not making tape backups, they almost certainly were using some sort of RAID redundancy. At a minimum, there should be some clearer disclosure of what kind of problem caused this catastrophe.

Posted by: dnjake | October 12, 2009 4:14 PM | Report abuse

I hate to say this, but if you or your company are dumb enough to trust your data to "the cloud" or any other third party, and then lose that data, you're just paying the stupidity tax.

"The cloud" is the latest thing. That doesn't make it the best thing, or even, a good thing. "The cloud" is inherently insecure, and its reliability is outside of your control.

Posted by: ian807 | October 12, 2009 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Nothing is safe on the Internet, and it never will be ....ever.

Posted by: dottydo | October 12, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Any service that does not have adequate backups is lacking in basic corporate responsibility, As a former security officer for a commercial bank in California, backups are the primary duty of the provider. This company, whether it's T-Mobile, Microsoft, or Danger, should be held responsible for monetary damages up to, and including, bankruptcy of said company. No excuses.

Wanna bet the execs of this company got multi-million dollars bonuses last year?

Posted by: milano99_99 | October 12, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

What's a sidekick? What's a cloud? Hold on, let me write this down in my paper notebook.

Posted by: oxhead1 | October 12, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

There are Two Types of humans
Those That have a computer and Those That do NOT
There are Two Types of humans
Those That have had hard-drive failure and Those That WILL HAVE HARD-DRIVE FAILURE

just wait Till The Internet goes DOWN

ENTER NOT!!

been running a computer professionally for more Than 20 years, been There & done THAT!!

Posted by: bizwhiz | October 12, 2009 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Wiping out master copies of personal data, particularly address books and photos accumulated by users of T-Mobile's Sidekick smartphone is 'garbage out' indeed. But who 'garbaged in(to)' the server...?

Posted by: imagaidika | October 12, 2009 6:25 PM | Report abuse

Having spent most of my career as a network administrator, I have to say that if you don't have good backups of your data, you have nothing. Maintaining a good backup system is probably the most essential part of that profession, but all too often it goes neglected.

Posted by: pjs1965 | October 12, 2009 7:11 PM | Report abuse

""HAL: Look Dave, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.

I know I've made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal.

I've still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you.""

OK folks, have I made my point??

Posted by: plaza04433 | October 12, 2009 8:46 PM | Report abuse

sIDEKICKS wERE gREAT aND tHIS iS dEVASTATING.. i LoST oVER 350 nAMES, eACH wITH uP tO tEN oR mORE pHONELINES, eMAILS, aDDRESSES, bIRTHDAY iNFO, aND LiTTLE nOTES aBOUT tHAT cONTACT wHETHER iT bE wHEN iTS oK tO cALL tHEM oR wHAT tHEY LiKED tO dO mAYBE sOMETHING tO hELP yOU rEMEMBER wHO tHEY aRE iF yOU kNOW 8 dIFFERENT jOHNS. pICTURES oF pAST rELATIVES (tHAT oNE hURTS) sCHEDULES, aND nOTES, i hAD 4 iNVENTIONS pLANNED oN mINE!! tHIS iS iNSANE tHAT iS gONE..
tMOBILE iS nOW oFFERING $100.00 cUSTOMER aPPRECIATION cARDS(iM sORRY cARDS) oN tOP oF tHE mONTH oF dATA sERVICE aLREADY cREDITED. iF yOU aSK mE tHEY cOULD gIVE mE 2 mILLION aND I sTILL wOULD nOT bE aS hAPPY aS i wOULD hAVING aLL mY cONTACTS aND dATA.

oK i sTARTED uSING sIDEKICKS wHEN tHEY wERE fIRST aVAILABLE wITH bLACK aND wHITE sCREENS. nEVER eVER hAD aNY pROBLEMS LiKE tHIS, sURE tHE sYSTEM cRASHED a fEW tIMES tHROUGHT tHE 5 pLUS yEARS bUT tHEY cOULD gET iT bACK uP anD rUNNING wITH aLL dATA rESTORED wITHIN 3 dAYS mAX.. nOT 2 wEEKS anD cOUNTING!! i tHINK tHERES aLOT mORE tO tHIS sTORY..
dANGER iS nO LoNGER dANGER, i wAS tOLD bOSSES (mICROSOFT) cAME iN tHE dAY tHEY rELEASED tHE 2009 vERSION wHICH mICROSOFT wAS gONNA sCRAP iF iT wERE nOT fOR a LaWSUIT fROM tMOBILE tO pRODUCE iT aND fIRED bASICALLY aLL tHE dANGER gUYS.
sO eITHER tHIS wAS iNTENTIONAL (dO sOME mORE rESEARCH) oR sTUPIDITY..
aND iF iT wAS aCCIDENTAL tHE dANGER gUYS wOULD kNOW hOW tO fIX iT.. tHINK aBOUT iT, iF tHEY cAN fIX iT.. hOW iS iT pOSSIBLE tHAT mICROSOFT cANT???

iM gETTING aN iPHONE wHEN tHIS iS alL dONE.. gONNA mISS tHE cUT aND pASTE fEATURE tHOUGH oH aND aLL mY oTHER vITAL dATA..

Posted by: bONS1 | October 12, 2009 11:03 PM | Report abuse

I just don't understand life I guess. Microsoft is one of the worse software companies I know, yet everyone buys their products very much like lemmings jumping off a cliff. Their systems are more likely to crash than fox news is to critisize obama. just the other day, they announced a patch with 13 fixes....THIRTEEN different problems that needed to be corrected in their operating system... how long have they been writing their operating system? and how come they have so many errors after so much time in the business? I have to have ms products where i work, and it seems not a week goes by when i don't have some stupid problem with an ms product. they simply do not do a good job at what they are supposed to be good at ....programing. In fact they are horrible!!!! someone wrote that people should learn to back up their data... yes they should, but they should also learn DON'T BUY MICROSOFT unless they absolutely have to!!!!!

Posted by: riall1 | October 13, 2009 7:07 AM | Report abuse

Has anybody considered this may be a hacking incident?

Posted by: jeh1 | October 13, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

I work at a very large corporation and see it everyday. Dumb managers that can hardly open a word document think that any idiot with a keyboard and a piece of paper that says certified can do the job. They don't want to pay for experienced SA's that have enough sense not to lose data. With our current economy expect to see this more and more as cost cutters choose cheap over experience and talent.

Posted by: wsj2 | October 13, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

I could say I feel sorry for the users of Sidekick but when you trust your data to something called cloud computing, when you don't know where your data is stored or who has access to it. I've spent 37 years in computing and I have ALWAYS have data backup. I also had software that checked that the servers and software running on the servers were running. If a company like Microsoft can say screw this up why would you want to trust anything to cloud computing.

Posted by: Jimof1913 | October 13, 2009 7:50 PM | Report abuse

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