Backing up and how I lost 6 months of data

In the last episode of Release Notes podcast, Joe and Charles spent a half an hour discussing backing up desktop computers. In the last five minutes, the two discussed backing up iOS devices.

On Mac OS X, I use both CrashPlan and Time Machine. CrashPlan is $60/year and backs up offsite via my Internet connection. Time Machine is provided by Apple and backs up to an external hard drive. I also store much of my data in Dropbox, which syncs with my laptop and gives me a second copy of my most important documents. On iOS I use Apple’s automatic backup to iCloud.

And it is with iCloud that things went horribly wrong.

When the iPhone 6s+ launched in September, I upgraded immediately. I had skipped a year so was still using a 5s. I did what I always do when moving devices: I backed up to iCloud, got the new device, re-installed from that back up and then reset the old device. No problems encountered this time, too.

But I had a faulty 6s+ and had to trade it in for a new one. I backed up to iCloud, went to the Apple Store and they swapped out devices. To swap out devices, though, I had to reset my broken 6s+ before installing on the new one.

During reinstall, I noticed that some apps were acting funny and there was missing data, in particular all my iMessage messages were lost and so was six months of activity data. We tried to recover from multiple backups but it appeared every one of them was corrupted. I spoke with Apple support both on the phone and in store, was even escalated and no one could help. All my data was lost. I had to set up the new 6s+ as a new device.

From now on when I move devices, I will not only backup to iCloud but I’ll also do one last backup to iTunes. In iTunes, choose the device and, under the Backup section, choose “This computer” and “Encrypt iPhone backup,” then Sync. When done revert back to iCloud backup.

Encrypt backup is required to backup messages and activity data, as both are encrypted on the device. This is also why Apple couldn’t help me recover either, although I find it inexcusable that at least activity data can’t be recovered independent of a backup file (same as calendar and contacts).