This past weekend, Ed Oswald of Technologizer published a piece about how Apple seems to have stolen his contacts as if they owned them. The gist of the article is that he canceled his MobileMe account — without taking any actions to save his data beforehand — […]


This past weekend, Ed Oswald of Technologizer published a piece about how Apple seems to have stolen his contacts as if they owned them. The gist of the article is that he canceled his MobileMe account — without taking any actions to save his data beforehand — and thinks it’s Apple’s fault that the contacts left stranded on his iPhone cannot be somehow “saved,” even though he killed the very method he was using to maintain them. 

I disagree this is Apple’s fault, and portions of his own piece seem to support my argument. For example, we get these statements — mentioned rather matter-of-factly — as if they should have no bearing on the issue:

This means that if you leave [MobileMe] for whatever reason, your synced information is as good as gone if you don’t have it locally.

Well, of course you would need it locally. Why would you still have access to Apple’s servers after leaving their service?

It won’t sync with iTunes (I wondered why new appointments and contacts suddenly weren’t getting synced anymore), 

Translation: I noticed there was a problem, but did nothing to analyze it or connect the dots. 

and there’s no way to go back to just syncing sans MobileMe.

He’s upset he can’t sync with MobileMe servers without MobileMe? Did he really just say that? In iTunes it’s trivial to go back to syncing local data, but we’ve already established he doesn’t have any. How is this Apple’s fault? 

Here’s a scenario to consider…

FIRST: A user, let’s call him “Bob,” calls me up and says “Tom, will you please host my contacts on your server for me? I’ll just hit up your server for additions, deletions, etc.?” My reply to this is “Sure, let’s do it.” We agree, and it’s a done deal. 

At this point, who owns Bob’s contacts? Like Mr. Oswald, I believe that Bob does. I also believe just as strongly that having his data on an “outside” server modifies the relationship Bob has with it. In other words, adding a third party to the mix changes the rules in a manner Bob must realize, and is obligated to act accordingly. As just one example, Bob must not be surprised that he cannot modify his data if my server is down; he must wait until I get the server back up. 

SECOND: Bob calls me up after a few months and says, “Thanks, Tom, but I’m not going to hit up your server anymore, I no longer want to use that method for my data.” My reply to this is “OK by me.” 

At this point I’m done with Bob; what’s my obligation with the copy of his data I possess? Well, I shouldn’t use it, or sell it, or spam it, etc. But at the same time I sure as heck am under no obligation to hang onto it, either. Why should I waste my server’s disk space on a client no longer using my service?

THIRD: Let’s forget any speculation that there may be telltale signs Bob is ignoring that something is amiss with his data, and just skip to the part where he calls me a month after #2 and says “Tom, um, I need my data just one more time.” My reply to this is “Huh?” 

I think you can see where we go from here. 

I’m sorry that Mr. Oswald lost his contacts. Really, I am. But blaming Apple is pointless. In iTunes it’s pretty clear when you use MobileMe syncing that there’s no “local” sync. The fact that he had issues after killing the service confirmed this, yet he did nothing. 

Finally, and to the heart of Mr. Oswald’s complaint, if I ever owned Bob’s data you could claim I did not take proper steps when the relationship was ended (at which time presumably I no longer owned it). In other words, when the responsibility of ownership passed back to Bob from me, I should have had to “hand off” the data back to him. But it’s the very fact that I never owned the data to begin with that makes this claim silly. Bob is (and always was) shepherding the data, it’s his even when it’s on my server. 

I think Mr. Oswald should have published a mea culpa, and instructed others how to avoid the same fate. If I were going to kill my MobileMe account this is what I would do: 

  1. Export my contacts and calendars using Export from the Address Book and iCal File menus.
  2. Go into MobileMe control panel and kill contact and calendar syncing. Do the same on my iPhone. 
  3. Go into iTunes and set contacts and calendars to sync from my Mac (i.e., locally).
  4. Import the exported files from step 1. 

I would absolutely do the above before killing the MobileMe account, so I could ensure it all works. When I was satisfied everything is OK, then I could safely kill my account. 

Keep in mind the above only discusses contacts/calendars because that was Mr. Oswald’s complaint. In my case, however, I also sync primary data on my iDisk, bookmarks, email, and other data as well. I would follow a similar process to the above for all of it, doing it all before killing the MobileMe account.

We’re not talking about a lot of work here, folks. More importantly, it’s the prudent thing to do because, well, I own this data; who else should I expect to do it?

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  1. Tom, this post is pretty disappointing. You as well as some of our more vocal critics on Technologizer are completely missing the point. If you break the sync, YES THERE IS NO EXPECTATION of any saving of data on Apple’s side. I never said that, and your post frankly insinuates I did. What I DID say is once you select MobileMe to sync, there is no way back.

    Thus, say you have a computer error after canceling MobileMe, which takes out your information. Because Apple wipes the phone by design, there is no way to bring that data over because you have been locked in to syncing through MobileMe only.

    Apple CANNOT assume people have multiple backups — Steve himself has admitted people don’t back up. There is no good reason why this wipe occurs. Live Mesh as well as other Microsoft sync services BREAK THE SYNC ONLY, leaving all data intact.

    I am not blaming Apple, what I am saying is there is no reason to touch the data when you leave the service. None.

    I would be interested in hearing your reasoning as to why this occurs.

  2. <i<Apple CANNOT assume people have multiple backups — Steve himself has admitted people don’t back up.

    LOL. I think I will commence to wipe out my hard disk and call Apple to see if they have a back up.

  3. Ed,

    But there IS a way “back from MobileMe”, and to say otherwise is disingenuous. It implies once you go MMe you have to re-enter all your data locally if you change your mind. At least, that’s how I read it, and that’s false.

    Apple’s apps are fully capable of grabbing the data you need LOCALLY before you kill the MobileMe account. I outlined as much in my post. It’s not about having some backup strategy. Rather, it’s about making a local copy of it before you kill the lifeline with the MobileMe server. This is not hard to do, and given the nature of the Cloud it’s at least something you should have considered.

    You imply Apple assumes you have a backup. My belief is they assume nothing regarding a backup, nor do they need to. You ask to kill the account, and they do so. What steps you’ve taken to manage your data after the Cloud is none of their business.

    If you want to think Apple should have protected you more from yourself, fine. However, I still believe your readers would have been better served with a “here’s how to avoid what happened to me” article than what you wrote, which blasted Apple for behavior that many (I’m certainly not the only one) can envision occurring when you kill a Cloud service without first preserving the data locally.

  4. So basically Ed Oswald has a PEBKAC issue. Case closed.

  5. While I suppose he has a somewhat valid complaint in that removing MobileMe from an iPhone wipes the contacts list, he completely missed the point that the iPhone is the only one in this situation that acts that way. If your MobileMe account expires/is deleted/MobileMe is down/etc. and you have your contacts synced to your Address Book on your Mac, or Outlook on your Windows machine (and don’t forget the options to sync to Google or Yahoo address books), none of them are affected.

    I give him a validity score of 10% simply because the iPhone wipes that info (and wipes it when you’re starting a MobileMe account on an iPhone as well, without much warning), however it doesn’t affect stored data on Outlook, Address Book.app, or Google/Yahoo services. If he had used MobileMe for its intended purpose to sync to one or more of those places, he would still have all his info, and I believe that’s what Apple was intending as well.

  6. There’s an easy answer to all this crying over spilt milk….

    Back up your data & don’t rely on others to do it for you.

  7. It’s always easy to blame others for one’s own fault.

  8. I would tend to agree here.

    First, there is a way to change it to sync locally. Part of the issue, I guess, is that Ed assumed he had a local copy of the data. After all, doesn’t MobileMe also sync with your desktop? Is there a way to tell where the data is? How do you tell where your data is?

  9. Tom, do explain to me however, why the data needs to be touched. When you say no I don’t want to sync via MobileMe anymore, the device deletes the data. Apple assumes here because it was a MobileMe sync that for whatever reason I don’t need whatever was synced there. If you want to wipe your device clean, you should do it separately.

    The point is, and I’ve done additional research, MobileMe is basically the only service that acts in this manner when you cut the sync. It’s completely counter intuitive, and is a method that is ripe for a risk of data loss.

    When you switch back to a standard sync, there shouldn’t be any need for any kind of wipe. That’s my point. It’s completely fair for me to criticize Apple for doing something that makes absolutely no sense.

    It’s like playing Russian Roulette with people’s data.

  10. Partners in Grime Monday, February 2, 2009

    Definitely like PEBMAC.

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