Guest Post: Why Back Up Google Contacts?

Brett Carver Brett Carver volunteers on the Gmail Help forum as a Top Contributor with over 40,000 posts helping users with account recovery and various other topics. He is a software engineer with over 25 years of R&D and new product development experience.

Cloud services are safe, they use secure servers and backups, right? Google is a respected company and my data is secure and safe with them, right?

Well, yes and no.

It’s true that Google has highly secure servers and multiple levels of hardware redundancy and disaster-recovery systems. But that doesn’t mean they support individual user account recovery. If a fire takes out a primary datacenter, they can have a secondary site cover the load in minutes. But if your account gets compromised and wiped clean, there’s nothing that can be done to recover your data.

Or is there?

But first let’s talk about what data is at risk.

Clearly since it’s a Gmail account, your email history is at risk of loss. That implies all your saved contacts too. In addition, any additional services connected to your account could be at risk, like Google Calendar and Google Docs. But let’s just focus on contacts. How much of a risk or losing contacts is there really? In what ways can contacts be lost?

The first and most obvious way is when your account is compromised by a hacker. Often the hacker’s goal is to send out as much spam as possible before your account is shut down by Google. In other cases the goal is to send out a scam e-mail (like the”Tears in my eyes” lost in London scam) to try and scam money from people you know. In both cases, it’s very common for the hacker to delete all of your e-mail history and contacts to make it harder for you to warn people.

Sometimes contacts are lost through simple user error. For example, some people confuse the process of removing contacts from a group and deleting contacts. Deleted contacts can not be recovered, so if you accidentally delete contacts, or delete them when you intended to only remove them from a group, they’re gone.

Merging contacts can be a risk too. If you merge the wrong ones, or accidentally select too many contacts and perform a merge, you can lose a lot of data.

And then there are occasional problems in syncing contacts with mobile devices. Configuring your device incorrectly or accidentally deleting contacts from it and then syncing with your account can cause your Google contacts to be deleted permanently.

In the Gmail Help Forums I see literally dozens of reports each day from people who have had their accounts compromised. Many who still have access (or recover access) are desperate to find out how they can recover all their deleted contacts. While not as frequent, there are posts daily for the other causes too. And while data loss affects only a small percentage of Google users, that’s little consolation when it’s your data that’s lost.

So what can one do to protect your contacts?

You can perform your own manual backups by using the Export function found in the Google Contacts manager. By saving a copy to your computer once a week or month, you can make sure you always have something you can recover with. Of course if you edit or add contacts a lot, a one-month old backup may be a bit out of date. And if you forget to do the regular export, your backup can be even more out of date. Also, the export function won’t include contact photos, so should you need to re-import your contacts those photos will be lost.

Or you can use an automated backup system like Spanning Backup. Spanning Backup has the advantage of being automatic and always current, and can be well worth the cost to protect contacts for a business or other function that would be crippled if they were lost.

You can try Spanning Backup free for 30 days at Setup takes about 7 seconds.