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Oh My Tech!: Should we trust Apple or Amazon?

Published November 8, 2012 10:30 am

Technology • Vanished downloads bring a hard lesson: Always back up digital purchases.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Ever since songs, movies and books became digital commodities, companies including Amazon, Google, Sony, and Apple have touted how great their online services are for easily buying and downloading entertainment. They've also been saying how cloud-based services are a sure way to store your digital goods for safekeeping.

Not true.

I've always been wary of letting big companies handle my digital music and movies, and what happened to me last week reaffirms that.

While rifling recently through a list of my iTunes purchases, I noticed that two items I bought and downloaded several years ago — a Monty Python comedy album and a "Saturday Night Live" video — were no longer on record as having been purchased.

Normally, once you buy and download a digital product from an online service, the company keeps some evidence of the transaction. If you delete it from your computer or mobile device for whatever reason, you should be able to download it again without having to pay twice.

Since Apple didn't have record of those two purchases anymore, I was faced with having to pay the full price again to re-download them.

In the case of the Monty Python album, I fortunately already had it in my computer so I was fine —given that I had backed it up to another hard drive. But I had deleted the "SNL" video, which cost me $26, wiping it from my computer and mobile devices to save space. I thought at the time, if I wanted it again, I could just re-download it.

Not so. It will cost me another $26.

I emailed Apple. They responded that the "SNL" video is no longer available for purchase, and the Monty Python album, while still available, must have been "modified" — whatever that means — and that I would have to pay to re-download it. After some back and forth, Apple's final response was, basically, that I was screwed.

They referred to their Terms of Service contract for iTunes — you know, that long document you ALWAYS read and agree to before signing up.

They cited: "Apple does not represent or guarantee that the iTunes service will be free from loss, corruption, attack, viruses, interference, hacking, or other security intrusion, and Apple disclaims any liability relating thereto. Some products can be downloaded only once; after being downloaded, they cannot be replaced if lost for any reason. You shall be responsible for backing up your own system, including any iTunes products purchased or rented from the iTunes Store."

First of all, my wanting to re-download the album and video didn't come as a result of iTunes suffering "loss, corruption, attack, viruses, interference, hacking, or other security intrusion." It was because they stopped selling the video and they "modified" the album. In other words, it was due to Apple that I can't re-download those items anymore.

It's not like I expect Apple or Amazon to always take care of anything I purchase from them, just as I don't expect a record store to hold all the CDs I buy from them. Yet many users don't understand that once they purchase digital media from any online service, they are responsible for backing the media up to an external hard drive. Most people I know don't back up their music, movies or mobile apps.

This isn't the first time that kind of problem has happened to me. Apple messed up another album I bought a few years ago that required me to call them to restore my purchase. And Sony doesn't have it on record that I downloaded a video game for my PlayStation Vita portable with a voucher.

Obviously the lesson here is always back up every digital purchase you make from an online service, whether it's a mobile app, book, song, or movie.

But thanks to this recent experience, now more than ever I don't trust companies to keep my digital goods safe.

The issue is even more important to consider now that cloud-based services like Amazon's Cloud Drive or Apple's iCloud promise to keep your digital songs and videos secure on their servers. These are virtual lockers these companies offer for storing your digital stuff —for a fee. They probably are secure . . . until the servers crash, their accounting records get messed up, your media gets erased, or hackers break in and steal everything.

Can big companies be trusted to be there when you need them? I've learned the answer is no.

If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he'll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to http://www.sltrib.com/topics/ohmytech. —

Backing up your music

Back up your digital songs, movies, mobile apps and books if you want to keep them forever. The process is fairly straightforward. Here are steps to take.

Use an external harddrive and connect it to your PC or Mac.

If you use iTunes, copy the "iTunes" folder and all of its contents to the external drive using either Finder in an Apple Mac or with Windows Explorer if are using a PC. Just drag and drop the entire "iTunes" folder to the external drive. This may take a while depending on how many songs and movies you have in it.

By default, here is where the "iTunes" folder is located in your computer's file directory:

Mac OS X • /Users/username/Music

Windows XP • Documents and SettingsusernameMy DocumentsMy Music

Windows Vista or Windows 7 • UsersusernameMy Music

If you need to restore your library or any particular song or movie back to your computer, simply drag and drop it from the external drive to the same folder and subfolders in your computer. It will then copy the digital file to that folder.

If you use purchase digital songs, movies or apps from another service besides iTunes, simply copy the folder where the digital media is stored on your computer and drag and drop it to the external harddrive.