How to Backup Other Data

[This Part 3 of a series – be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2, too.]

While we’ve discussed how to backup your local data and data that’s primarily stored in the cloud, there are some other types of data that you may also want to make a personal, local copy of: data that you don’t own.

web backup

Shared Data

Having data in the cloud makes it much easier to share with others. We do this with social media, shared photo albums and documents that we collaborate on. But just because someone shares a file with us doesn’t mean that that’s a permanent arrangement. If they close or lose access to their account, or just decide to remove or stop sharing the file, then you will no longer have access.

Where I run into this most often is with shared family photo albums. Whenever we get together, one of us will create a shared album and we’ll all post our pictures to it. But unless you download copies of those images, you could lose access to them some day. The same is true for shared Google Docs or other cloud-based collaboration platforms. In most cases, if you someone has shared a photo or document with you, you can download your own copy for safe keeping.

Similarly, if you rely on someone’s social media posts for access to important family photos or recipes or whatever, you may want to consider downloading copies. Just make sure you open and save the full-sized image and not the thumbnail version. And in all cases, you should make sure they’re okay with you doing this.

Copyrighted Data

Over the last 10 years or so, we’ve moved away from owning our movies and music to merely licensing access to them. When we “buy” digital movies, TV shows, books, and music today, we’re not given physical media that contain that data. You don’t really own any of that content, you merely have a contract that allows you to watch, read or listen to that content – usually using a proprietary application to do so. If the source of that content goes out of business, is bought out, or goes offline for any reason, you will no longer have access. They can also change the terms of service, to some degree – perhaps removing support for a particular streaming device.

Sadly, there’s not a lot you can do about this. This is now the world we live in. You can still buy physical media (DVDs, Bluray disks, and CDs) but most of us don’t even own disk players any more. If you buy individual music tracks or albums, you can often download the files to your computer. And thanks at least partly to Steve Jobs, most music files today are unrestricted by “digital rights management” (DRM) restrictions. The same is not true of movies and TV shows, unfortunately. Books can sometimes be downloaded in non-proprietary, DRM-free formats like PDF or ePUB.

I personally believe that if you bought something, then you should be able to make copies for your own use and access that content without restrictions, using whatever app or device you want. Copyright law supports that ideal under fair use, but in reality, it’s not always possible. There are tools that can help you remove DRM from files, but be very, very careful about downloading and installing this sort of software. Tools that break DRM and copy restrictions can sometimes harbor malware, as well. That said, you might check out Calibre for managing your e-books.

Website Data

Have you ever bookmarked a fantastic website, some resource that you love to reference frequently, only to discover that it’s been removed or changed in some horrific way? There are ways to backup web pages, entire websites and even all of Wikipedia! If something on the web is truly important to you, consider making a local, personal copy.

For backing up individual web pages, I like using a browser plugin called SingleFile (Chrome, Firefox, Safari). While you can save most web pages just by right-clicking and choosing “Save page as…”, SingleFile will distill everything – including images – into a single, simple HTML file. While you could try to save a website as a PDF, the paging format can really mess it up. (Use uBlock Origin to block the ads, so you don’t save those, too.)

If you don’t do this before the page goes away or changes, you can try looking up a historical version in the wonderful Wayback Machine. You can also request that the Wayback Machine take a snapshot of any page (“Save page now”). And Panquake’s link-to-QR-code tool, pnqk.me, will also make a snapshot of the page you’re linking to.

Did you know that you can actually download a copy of the entire Wikipedia? The full version is enormous, but you can get trimmed-down versions – like just the most popular pages (“top”), without images (“nopic”), just the initial summaries (“mini”) or just for certain subject areas (e.g., history or chemistry). I download the “top1m maxi” English version maybe once or twice a year, which runs around 40GB. Will Wikipedia ever go away? I hope not. But hey, when the zombie apocalypse comes, I’m gonna look pretty smart.

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