Carbonite – Photographers beware!

Backing up files is an important consideration for anyone, but especially for photographers.  I once had a hard drive fail and spent six long weeks waiting and hoping that a data recovery team could retrieve any images from several years worth of personal photographs – including images of pets who had passed away several years ago, family vacation moments, etc.


That was an important lesson for me and I did a lot of research before deciding to sign up with Carbonite.  What I liked about Carbonite was that it had a good reputation, it would automatically save a copy of my files off-site (no worries about fire, etc), it was a reasonable price, and I could access the files remotely.  And for the first two years Carbonite did as promised.


My issues apparently began in February of this year, as far as I can tell.  But I didn’t realize there was a problem until June.  After returning home from vacation in early June I uploaded several thousand photographs.  I assumed Carbonite was doing it’s thing in the background.  But for some reason I decided to open up the program and take a look.  I was surprised to see that Carbonite was idle and had backed up approximately 20 of the several thousand images.


Within the Carbonite program you can look at individual files and see the status.  It shows if they are pending backup or if they have been backed up.  You can also manually select which files should be backed up.  I went to my most recent photograph folders and tried to manually select them for backup.  It didn’t work.


At that point I looked a little deeper into the program and discovered that many folders only had a small portion of the files backed up.  The top level folder was checked, indicating that it had backed up.  But most of the files within each folder were not checked.  All the way back to early February, maybe longer, because at that point I stopped looking and started panicking.  I was unable to add any files to the manual backup.  After restarting my computer there was no change, and I could not get Carbonite to do anything, it remained idle.


I called Carbonite immediately and spoke to a very nice customer service rep named Stephen.  He took diligent notes on the problem and agreed that many files had not been backed up since February.  After approximately an hour of working with Stephen the Carbonite program had been uninstalled and reinstalled, he told me to give it a day or two to get back up to speed.  Within 4 hours the system had crashed and it listed no files, only the status of “account disabled”.


The second time I called the Carbonite customer service desk I spoke to Shannon.  She was also very nice and actually read through her notes so that I wouldn’t have to repeat the entire situation.  After an hour of the same uninstall/reinstall process I was told to give the program a day or two to catch up.  Once again, within hours the status showed “account disabled”.


My next customer service rep was Steve, I had been “escalated” to the next level up.  Once again, no results.  After my next call I was told that I was now Tier 3 and that I would need to make an appointment with one of the product engineers.  I did so, and here is how that discussion went.


David called me and started the conversation off with exactly what I wanted to hear.  He said he knew what the problem was, and it could be fixed.  The underlying issue was that I had 3.1T of files backed up.  I explained that yes, I had 3.1T of files backed up but that many more had not been backed up, I love photography and that means lots of large files.  David then stated that I would need to “drastically scale back” the number of files to be backed up or switch to a professional level subscription to Carbonite, at a 300% increase in cost.  He was actually really impressed that the program had managed to back up the 3.1T because he said it wasn’t built for that much information.

I would need to “drastically scale back” the number of files to be backed up or switch to a professional level subscription to Carbonite, at a 300% increase in cost

I quickly pulled up the Carbonite website as he was speaking.  I reaffirmed, my subscription was for unlimited data storage.  When I asked David what unlimited meant to him, he just kept responding that it was amazing that system had already backed up 3.1T without crashing.  I tried to specify, “So, unlimited data storage to you means 3T and under?”.  Same response, 3.1T was too much data.  Even for an UNLIMITED storage account.


After going in circles for over twenty minutes I was getting increasingly angry.  I was raised to be polite, so for me to lose my temper openly with someone is extremely rare.  But I had now wasted several hours and had many, many files at risk.  I finally told David to cancel my subscription, refund my money, and send me a hard drive with the data that they had backed up since my account was still disabled and I was unable to access any backed up files.  He told me that I would have to pay, or once again upgrade to higher (more expensive) account to have a hard drive sent to me.  He refused to give me any kind of refund, full or partial, because the product was working.  After all, I had 3.1T worth of files backed up.


I was almost speechless at this point.  I tried asking him how he could say that the program was working when it had not been backing up my files for at least 4 months out of the past 10 months, maybe more?  If the program was working I wouldn’t have had to call the customer service desk FOUR times.  I told him I wanted to a full refund.  He said no.  I asked to speak to someone else that could help me and he said there wasn’t anyone else.  He said that he would try resetting my system one more time but if it didn’t work that was just too bad, because the system wasn’t designed to store that much data.  


David was kind enough to offer to remove the auto-renew setting on my account.  I may have said, “Yes, please, because I would rather die than give Carbonite one more penny of my money” or something similar.  It took all of my resolve not to swear at him, something I rarely do, but I managed.


Not surprisingly, the uninstall/reinstall process did not work.  Once again I was unable to access any files because the account was disabled.  I debated my options.  I thought about calling the credit card company and denying the charges, but the charge had been made 10 months ago.  I thought about complaining to the Better Business Bureau or taking them to small claims court.  But I was so angry that anytime I thought about it my blood started to boil.  I needed to take a step back for my own piece of mind.  Finally, almost four months later, I can write about it without being in a bad mood for the remainder of the day.


I don’t think I’ve ever written a bad review of a service before.  But after my most recent experience with Carbonite I feel that I need to warn other photographers.  At best, Carbonite failed at backing up my files and had horrible customer service.  That’s giving them the benefit of the doubt.  I have come to believe that Carbonite is a bait and switch, false advertising con game.  After all, why should the program fail at 3.1T worth of data but miraculously work when I sign up for a higher priced service level?


If anyone wants to start a false advertising (unless my definition of unlimited is incorrect) class-action lawsuit, I am in.  I know that the only real winners in class action suits are the lawyers but maybe that would call attention to dangers of backing up files with Carbonite so that other people don’t have the same experience that I did.


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