Thursday, June 3, 2021

AT&T Personal Cloud? Uh, No.

The Cloud is touted as the answer to everything.  What was the question, again?

I recently got a new (used) Galaxy phone.  It was a used AT&T phone, whereas all my old phones were used T-Mobile phones.  Funny thing, I could stream data using the T-Mobile phones as hotspots without any problems, even though our AT&T "prepaid" plan didn't provide for hotspot service.  I am guessing that somehow the AT&T people couldn't detect hotspot usage (which was done using a T-Mobile app) on a T-Mobile rooted phone.  It was great while it lasted.

So I had to "upgrade" ten dollars a month and this AT&T "Personal Cloud" appears as an add-on to my service, which I think is free of charge but I am not sure.   The AT&T site is not really clear on this, until I clicked on "plan details" and read:

Personal Cloud: AT&T Personal Cloud 100GB is included with your plan. The Personal Cloud app provides a way to safely store and protect valuable mobile content in the cloud. Through the app, customers can backup, sync, restore, access, create, and share content. For more info go to

...which is good because the ordinary charge is $4.99 a month, which I didn't want to pay.  The app was loaded on my phone, and I guess it sort of works.  It keeps talking about backing up "messages" whatever that means.  Instant messages?  Who the hell wants those backed up?  I delete all IM's the moment they are sent to me - as well as call logs.  I don't need that crap clogging up my phone.  For that matter, I am ruthless about deleting e-mails.  My inbox never contains more than a few e-mails, which is sort of a "to do" list of either e-mails I have to respond to, things I ordered online I need to watch for, or something I need to attend to.  Everything else gets erased.

(Oddly enough, you can find most of your e-mails, the important ones, anyway, in your SENT box, so all is not lost if you delete an important e-mail.  Important e-mail is something of an oxymoron, though). 

Actually, not backing things up is always a good option.  When a hard drive crashes and you lose data, there is a brief period of mourning, followed by a period of exhilaration.  All that crap you've been carrying around - GONE!  It is like my friends who "lost it all" in a house fire.  They missed a few things that were of sentimental value, but realized that most of the stuff in their house was junk - and the insurance check bought them much nicer, newer things.  I can't wait to see Marie Kondo set her house on fire - the ultimate "tidying up!"

By the way, I am not recommending arson - it is illegal and the insurance company won't pay out.

When you get older, you realize that a lot of the stuff you drag around in life is a burden - like Dickens' Marley with his chains and lockboxes.  We have a trunk full of photos and photo albums which we have not looked at in well over five years, maybe ten.  They are probably all moldy and faded.  We have no children to leave "memories" to and that is probably just as well.

My mother was a shutter-bug and took thousands of photos and had them made into slides.  No one looked at them very often, and later in life, even she and Dad stopped looking at them.   When they died, someone in the family inherited them like a hot potato, but since slide projectors and screens are sort of obsolete, I doubt that anyone will look at them, ever.  Without Mother's drunken commentary identifying each slide and what its relevance was, it is hard to make sense of old photos.

This is why I say, if you want to go this route, put the photos in a photo album (physical or online) and put a caption and description with each one. Otherwise, like my Grandmother's photo albums, the photos become meaningless.  You might as well be looking at random tintypes in an antique shop - where so many end up, unidentified and forgotten.  And if you post the photos in an online album, back them up somewhere, lest you end up a victim of an outfit like Webshots, who decides to "move in a new direction" and then deletes all your photos and captions.   The Internet is not permanent - it just seems that way.  And no, the "Wayback Machine" (Internet Archive) doesn't archive everything but mere snapshots (if you'll pardon the pun) of portions of the net, from time to time.

But I digress.  Or did I?  What I have learned late in life is that it is OK to "let go" of papers and records and photos and whatnot.  It is only young people who feel the need to save everything and reminisce over old photos and whatnot.   I think it is some way of denying death  - or perhaps finding meaning in life.

When you've cleaned out a few relatives' houses and even those of non-relatives, and realized that an entire lifetime of photos, mementos,and records all goes to the dumpster, you realize how foolish it is to try to "save" things.

For example, Mark's Dad saved tax records and bank account information for 20 years or more.  The IRS audits only back seven years, so if your records go back that far, you are pretty well set.  Why he kept cancelled checks from 1985 is beyond me.  We made a bonfire and lit everything up, lest someone paw through the trash and harvest an account number or something.

A neighbor down the street died and his house was abandoned for many years.  They tried to rent it out, but the Pacific Electric circuit breaker box caught fire.  The fellow was a commercial artist and his heirs didn't want anything in the house.  We inherited a lot of his art - the arts association has even more of it.  But there were boxes and boxes of files and "stuff" that ended up on the dumpster.  I read some of it - a letter dunning a restaurant chain for work he did designing their logo.  Interesting, but pointless - to even him.

So this urge to back up and save things is sort of pointless.  They couch it in terms of how you can "recover" your data if your phone is lost or stolen.  All your contacts!  You want to keep that, right?  Well, like my t-shirt collection, it pays to go through things every so often and ditch the ones that no longer fit.  I lost "all my contacts!" when my phone died and frankly, it was a blessing.  So many of them were for former clients I had not contacted in over a decade or things of that nature.  Did I really need that data?  It takes seconds to click on "add contact" when someone e-mails or calls or texts, so the really important people are "restored" within a matter of days or weeks.  As for the others?  Well, if I really needed to call them, I would find their number.  If not, why bother?

So, I have this free cloud, but probably don't need it.   Sure, since it is free, I may use it, to back up my music (11,000 songs), Books (thousands as well), and photos (geez!).   Problem is, to back things up, you need to use Wifi (for the phone), and the volume of data is pretty huge at least to get started. So the first time you log onto Wifi, well, it slows your phone down a bit.  For the computer, I am using the phone as a hot spot, and backing up all my files from the computer will pretty quickly eat up my data plan.  I suppose once the files are uploaded, the incremental uploads won't take too long to do.

The "app" for the phone seems to sort of work, but I get weird messages - that it "found new pictures" but when I click on it, it gives an error message.  When I go to the website, it is easier to see what is backed up and download and upload data.  But I also realize that it didn't back up diddly from my phone, or at least not all the data, from what I can see.  If you read the reviews online about the app, there are a lot of one-star reviews - people who don't want to pay $4.99 a month and can't figure out how to make AT&T stop billing them (Hint: switch to Verizon!). Others point out that the instructions on how to use the service are a little opaque, to say the least.

But all that being said, is it worth it? Because in the long run, nothing on the Internet is forever.  These files will only exist on their server so long as I am an AT&T customer and have this plan.  If I downsize to another plan, the data goes away after 30 days, unless I pay $4.99 a month as an "add-on" to the plan.  In addition, there is always the possibility of a server crash and data being lost, spindled, or mutilated.  And we all hate when that happens.  But if you read the ToS, basically AT&T promises to use "best efforts" to preserve data, and if valuable data is lost, they are not on the hook.  I mean, they are not fools - the liability would be enormous.

I guess since it was "free" I will play with this cloud thingy, but so far, it seems to be of limited value and of limited time. It is not some vault you can keep data in forever, but more like a backup hard drive that exists so long as you keep paying for it.

Or until they change their mind about it.