Sidekick’s Data Loss Fiasco

The data loss catastrophe suffered by T-Mobile users is continuing to make ripples, and T-Mobile itself is beginning to appear downright sinister, if such a dark word can be used.

The company has frozen all Sidekick sales, online as well as in stores, and there are rumors that customer complaints are actually disappearing – suspected of having been deleted –  from public Sidekick forums.  Meanwhile, user outcry grows louder and more strident.

In some cases, an amount of data is being recovered.  By and large, however, the problem still persists, as do the complaints.  This is an update.

Data Disruption

There have been several reports posted recently about disruptions to Sidekick’s service.  This weekend was the most significant “disruption,” when customers were surprised not by a simple glitch but by wholesale loss of their data.

The Sidekick uses Danger, a subsidiary of Microsoft, as a server backup for its device users.  Subscribers can offload their contacts, photos, calendars, and other personal data onto Danger for safekeeping.  Over the weekend, however, there was a technical malfunction in those same servers, causing data to be irrevocably lost throughout the Sidekick network.

Sidekickers’ Outcry

Even a cursory look at the Sidekick user forums will illustrate the growing unrest among users of the device.  When their personal information was suddenly gone, many users turned to one of several time-proven methods to remedy Sidekick issues, only to discover that their data was now lost for good with no recovery.  Frustration is rising on the forums, which is only a more-vocal cross section of the overall body of affected users.

Sidekick issues can traditionally be resolved using one of three restart methods:  removing the battery or holding the restart button.  With the server-glitch data loss, that typical recovery is a recipe for disaster.  Rebooting the Sidekick wipes the device’s memory of its information, after which it syncs data with the Danger servers.  Since the data loss is happening at Danger itself, restarting the phone in essence deletes the data permanently.

The best advice Microsoft and Sidekick currently have to offer is simple.  Leave the battery where it is, don’t restart the device, and make sure it never runs out of power.

Forum Comments Disappearing?

Richard Anderson is a Sidekick owner who lost his data.  His upset over the loss drove him to post his complaints to the Sidekick forum.  Returning later to his forum post, he found it had been deleted.  In his disgruntlement, he transferred his outraged comments to his own blog.  He is attempting to spur Sidekick users to complain not just to T-Mobile’s tech support department, but to their legal department.  He also urges complaints made to the user’s state attorney general and the Attorney General of Washington State, where T-Mobile USA has its offices.

In his blog, Anderson also claims that his posts are not the only ones disappearing from the Sidekick forum.  Any comments whose topics suggest class action lawsuits against T-Mobile are, he says, being selectively removed from public view.  A perusal of the forums will reveal no attempts to organize lawsuits, though lawsuits are mentioned several times.

Even if Anderson is correct, it makes sense for T-Mobile to monitor such inflammatory anti-T-Mobile posts on their own forums, as a matter of image protection.  If customers are angry enough to organize a class action, there are many other forums, such as Facebook, to do so, without going to the T-Mobile company website.

T-Mobile’s Response

A forum moderator for T-Mobile said in a post that T-Mobile will automatically refund one month of service for all Sidekick users who were affected by the server problem.  The last date on that post at the time of this writing was October 9, when no one had yet assessed the full scope of the problem.

By the 10th, the extent of the data loss was more fully understood, and the permanent loss of the information was publicly known.  In light of the crisis’s scope, it may be impossible to placate angry Sidekick customers with a mere one-month refund.  For many users, the loss of calendar events and photos, and the time and trouble to reconstruct a contact list, may be worth more than that.

Some say this event has put a dark cloud over the entire world of cloud computing, and jeopardized the future of the smartphone.  A simpler lesson, however, is in the basic necessity of being detailed and smart in backing up device data.

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