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Dropbox deleted all my files!

Dropboxer
Dropboxer
No, we didn’t.
 
Now that the clickbait worked, let’s get into the meat of the article.
 
While I know there’s a lot of frustration about how Dropbox deleted all my files’. I accept it’s hard to lose files, especially if they’re vital for your business, precious family or baby pictures, or even your favorite cryptocurrency digital wallet.
 
We’ve received emails, calls, and forum threads stating the same as the title. Users are insistent that we did the deletions. However, as other Dropboxers have posted here have said, and while it makes me seem robotic to repeat the same answer, this is the truth:
 
Dropbox does not delete your files, without any user interaction on them.
 
The latter part of that sentence is paramount. If you, or someone else with access to those files, deletes them, then Dropbox does what it’s supposed to do, and syncs the deletion to all devices and users.

Jay
Community Moderator @ Dropbox
https://dropbox.com/support


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Re: Dropbox deleted all my files!

Dropboxer
Dropboxer

But, how can my file be deleted?

 

A few ways actually…
 
Firstly, if you install your Dropbox folder to an external drive, then there are always deletion risks, and I have listed them in a separate thread, which can be found here. However, I’ll repeat them in this thread later for the sake of convenience.
 
Secondly, when I talk about deletions, I literally mean this definition: Dropbox cannot see the file any more, so the file is deleted”.
 
The question you should be asking is, Why cannot Dropbox see the file? Where did it go?”
 
Deletions to Dropbox mean any deletions done on the site, the mobile app, third party apps, and of course the desktop app.
 
All of these versions connect to Dropbox in more-or-less same way, meaning that they detect changes, and then change the files on the site, which then syncs to all devices.
 
I know you’ve heard this all before, but this is an incredibly important thing to understand.
 
Syncing only acts if there is something to sync. 
 
The app doesn’t do things on its own because it feels like it. If you’re staring at an empty spreadsheet, it’s not going to suddenly populate with your numbers and bar charts. A blank Word document doesn’t begin typing out your final year dissertation without your input.
 
The opposite is also true, a document doesn’t slowly delete characters until you’ve lost all your writing, or formulas, without you touching the keyboard.
 
This is just how Dropbox works, except for entire files and folders. If you’re staring at your Finder or Windows Explorer window blankly for an hour, even outside the Dropbox folder, (almost) nothing will change in front of your eyes, since you’re not using the computer.
 
I mention the almost’ part, since this is the crux of the matter. Narrowing down what made this almost nothing’ to definitely something’ is the goal of this post.

Jay
Community Moderator @ Dropbox
https://dropbox.com/support


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Re: Dropbox deleted all my files!

Dropboxer
Dropboxer

Look, just tell me how my file was deleted…

 
I was getting to that!
 
Now, I’ve been thinking about this for a while in order to help all users understand the myriad of deletions, so I’ve come up with a list of nearly all conceivable ways files could be deleted from your Dropbox account, given the above details I provided already.
 
So here goes, bear with me. 
 
I’ll start by listing them in groups of who deleted the file and where’, which can be found by viewing the Version history on the Dropbox site, though for deleted files you’ll only see this after restoring them:
 
Deletions with your own username and computer name
  • You deleted the file yourself - Yes, maybe you didn’t realize it yourself, but you did. What is a deletion though? This could simply be you moving instead of copying the file out of the Dropbox folder to your Documents or Downloads folder. This is a deletion.
  • Someone else deleted the file - Self-explanatory, find out who used your computer and talk to them. Violence is not condoned at Dropbox.
  • A program edited or deleted a file - Do you have antivirus software? Are you compiling code? Does any program monitor the Dropbox folder? Do you have a database (like an iPhoto library for instance) in the Dropbox folder? If so, they might be able to delete files also. Don’t underestimate the severity of your quarantine scanner or freedom of programming.
  • Another cloud provider, Time Machine, local backup software - We should all keep more than a cloud copy of your files, so it’s fine to use other services. Depending on your device, certain apps might already be syncing to a third party cloud provider, perhaps without your knowledge. Due to this, they might delete or revert files depending on their own settings (or even simply, a deletion from the other cloud provider) and like above if they’re monitoring the Dropbox folder also, then this is a recipe for a nightmare of data loss, which could affect all your backup services. 
  • Using a remote session - Essentially, if the computer has software to login to it remotely, they have the same access as you do, thus deleting files with your own credentials.
  • Virtual machine shenanigans - While not fully supported here, logging in with a pre-built setup could login to your own account and overwrite’ the Dropbox folder with no files, or pre-set files, which delete the others from the site. This can happen if the VM is non-persistent. Check with the developer or your IT admin (if applicable) for the correct settings to fix this.

Jay
Community Moderator @ Dropbox
https://dropbox.com/support


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Re: Dropbox deleted all my files!

Dropboxer
Dropboxer
Deletions with your own username and another device name
  • You deleted the file yourself - This will still be top of every post… This time from another computer you own.
  • Clearing out your camera roll on the phone - Hmm, remember that Camera Roll on iOS is not the Camera Uploads folder on your Dropbox account. Made a mistake? Oops, you’ve deleted the Dropbox versions instead by doing it through our app.
  • Gave your phone/computer to someone else temporarily - Malicious or not, this is still a possibility if you lend it to them to check out your new vaping skillz.
  • Work or home computer not logged out properly - Perhaps you left your machine on at home for someone to use it for web surfing, or you left work in a rush. Either way, someone deleted files from your Dropbox folder.
  • Sold or gave away a phone/computer permanently - Family, friends, strangers, it doesn’t matter in the eyes of Dropbox. If the device is logged in to your Dropbox account, and the person with the device then want to clear out space, or upload their own photos, well, that’s what happens. If you don’t wipe your devices before selling, at least unlink the Dropbox app!
  • Logging into an old machine - Surprisingly common if you own multiple machines. My trusty netbook creaks open every now and then, but I always quit the Dropbox app when it loads up, and immediately download a fresh copy of the installation file. Why? If you’re running an older version of the desktop app, it’s possible that the database on your old machine overwrites the one from the Dropbox site, so it takes my netbook to be the most up-to-date version, wiping the remainder of the files and bringing back vintage files. Always try to keep the app updated on all your devices to prevent this!
 
Deletions with your own username and another extremely similar computer name
  • You deleted the file yourself - But this time, from another user login on your own computer.
  • Someone else deleted the file under their computer login - Innocent enough, your dad shared the computer with you, but his Dropbox account is logged in when your user login works. Deleting files from the Dropbox folder, even though it will be stored under your own user space in Windows/Mac/Linux, will sync to the site and delete from his Dropbox account.
  • Reinstalled or upgraded Windows/OSX/Linux - Rare, but when doing a re-installation or an upgrade can cause the Dropbox folder to be changed or reverted to an older version, depending on how your OS does things. 

Jay
Community Moderator @ Dropbox
https://dropbox.com/support


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Re: Dropbox deleted all my files!

Dropboxer
Dropboxer
Deletions with your own username and the web
  • You deleted the file yourself - From the web… Browsers could be used from desktop or mobile devices, it will show up the same way. This is completely separate from the desktop or mobile Dropbox app.
  • You removed a shared folder from your account temporarily - Removing a shared folder doesn’t create an event on the events page, but the whole folder is missing. You’ll be able to find any missing folders and files by going to the share page to re-add them. 
  • You removed a shared folder from your account permanently - Unlike above, you cannot re-add it to your account. This will generate an event, so at least you know where to go from here.
  • Your browser was automatically logged in - Security is important, but convenience means we use autofill to log us into sites. Never have easy’ password managers save your password and autofill it, without at least requiring input from yourself (like a master password’). 
  • Your browser saved the password - Following on from the above, even with a password manager, don’t keep it running, or save your password in your browser. I know from experience that the security is somewhat lax. You can view your password for all your sites with a few clicks in the settings page, and without any way to secure it further. 
  • You didn’t sign out of your session - We are fickle creatures, and have to rush to places, but never forget to log out of the site properly. Closing your browser can work, but not always. If a minimized window or tab is open elsewhere, then your session is still open. Public machines might not properly clear their cache or sign you out depending on how they’re setup. Always logout by clicking the icon on the top right and sign out.
  • You use browser syncing - Somewhat rare, but as this is the new generation, your data follows you everywhere. Some browsers allow you to sign into them with a user ID, and your bookmarks appear on all your signed in browsers on your mobile or home machine. Great, except you probably have usernames, passwords, and worst of all, open tabs with whatever you were signed into at the time. This can apply on any device you login to, and thus risks are prevalent at all places for all the above reasons, especially if someone else uses an active session of yours…
  • ‘Hacking’ - Yes, the deadly word, and one often used when people say files have been deleted. 99.99% of the time it isn’t the case. The 0.01% of users who do experience this are victims of phishing, email hacking, keylogging, or anything that allows people to gain access to their Dropbox account. While your data at Dropbox is secured from hacking, if someone knows your Dropbox password, or can access your email address, it opens the door for them to do anything they want. Sadly this is quite easy to do given the vast internet. If someone does get your details, they usually only login through the web, and never link a computer, but a mobile device is possible. If you’re ever in doubt about any suspicious emails, don’t click the links to take you to the Dropbox site, and just visit us directly, and feel free to check out your security page for any unknown logins or devices attached to your account.

Jay
Community Moderator @ Dropbox
https://dropbox.com/support


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Re: Dropbox deleted all my files!

Dropboxer
Dropboxer
Deletions by another user from any device
  • Another user deleted the file - This time, it isn’t due to your actions, but someone else’s. This can only occur in shared or team folders. One common reason is that users don’t realize how the shared folders work, and thus delete the file thinking it only disappears from their copy of the folder. This is sadly not the case. They could also simply move the file elsewhere, which is seen as a deletion. If you contact them and they don’t understand why the deletion happened, you can refer them to this thread since any of the above as all the same reasons can apply to them.
  • We’re only human after all… - Any of the previous posts could apply to the other user, which leaves everything wide open to what could have happened. It most likely isn’t malicious, but always check with them gently.
  • You were removed from a shared folder permanently, or the team folder - Nothing much to say here, you cannot recover the folder without the owner’s permission as they uninvited’ you. This generates an event.
  • The shared folder, owned by someone else, was unshared completely - This is different in that the owner is no longer sharing it to anyone, so it’s a private folder on their account. Contact them directly, like above. This also generates an event.
  • The team admin might have done these changes… - On Dropbox Business teams with the Advanced and Enterprise plans, the team admin has the ability to sign in as any user on the team and be’ that user. The user is notified that the admin signed in as them, however they can’t stop the admin from deleting files, removing users from shared folders, unsharing folders entirely, and other actions. Even on Standard plans, team admins can remove your access from entire team folders and shared folders that they own, which can affect a large portion of your team.

Jay
Community Moderator @ Dropbox
https://dropbox.com/support


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Re: Dropbox deleted all my files!

Dropboxer
Dropboxer
Deletions by the API
  • An app deleted the file - Now is when it gets tricky… If you grant a third-party app access to your Dropbox account, they might have access to the whole account, and not just a specific folder just for them. This can lead to a multitude of reasons that I’ll briefly go through now, but the possibilities here could be endless.
  • Using a Samsung device - There is a feature called DocumentSync, which is a folder of your cloud docs that you can add, edit or delete files. It also allows the files to take up space on your mobile. This is a direct link into your Dropbox account, and will delete them, instead of removing them from your Samsung. Be careful! This will be disabled on April 1st, but this is just in case anyone uses it before then.
  • Editing photos - Most apps edit the original copy only, or create the edited version and keep the original. Some instead delete the original and immediately replace it. This subtle edit’ is a deletion/creation, so the original will be lost if you later look for it…
  • Automated services for monitoring - Home security apps, baby monitors, DVR camera systems, all can be linked to Dropbox to keep a copy of the day’s logins, talk and recordings. If nothing interesting is noted, the apps most likely have a setting to delete after 48 hours, or whatever the user requests. However, if there is a specific recording you need, store it elsewhere or save it to another Dropbox folder so it won’t be deleted.
  • Website/device rolling backups - Many apps and sites offer backing up your settings, logs and data to Dropbox; from your little blog about potatoes, to your brand spanking new iAndroid Ubersmartphone with retinal scans and blood verification. Since the backups are large, like the above monitoring reason, there will probably only be a few backups available on the site before the app deletes the 20th, 10, or even 5th backup. This all depends on the setting you create. Again, if there’s a nice backup, or you want a persistent copy, save it elsewhere.
  • App specific reasons’ - This is a generic way to catch all problems or expected behavior with the third party app itself. Maybe their server caught fire and all your data there perished, syncing the empty folders to Dropbox. Perhaps they frequently conduct maintenance, and the timing is off, and the folder is deleted. The app itself might have a bug, or known issue, or just setup wrong, or even worse, is infected somehow. My recommendation? Find out exactly how the app is supposed to work before you link it to your Dropbox account. Get the correct settings first time. Don’t install the app if you think it is untrustworthy. Check the site of the developer and see how responsive they are to users in their community. Be cautious.

Jay
Community Moderator @ Dropbox
https://dropbox.com/support


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Re: Dropbox deleted all my files!

Dropboxer
Dropboxer
Special mention - If the Dropbox folder is on an external drive
  • Not mounted - When you boot your machine up and the external drive has yet be mounted to your machine, even if the cable is connected, it might not appear instantly on your computer as a drive. At this point, the Dropbox desktop application would detect a lack of folder and might start deleting away.
  • Disconnected while the machine is in use - If the USB/Firewire cable unplugged, even if the Dropbox desktop application is paused, the folder would have vanished’, again leading to deletions.
  • Low on or loss of power - Is the drive powered by USB power, or external power? Is your PSU powerful enough to run it and all your graphics cards during an intense round of the latest MMOFPSJRPGSHMUP game of the week? Is there a UPS connected to your machine? Loss of power to the external drive equals lost folder, which leads to deletion.
  • Hibernation mode - Bought a planet-saving eco-friendly drive that powers down when in sleep mode to reduce pollution? Perhaps it switches off completely, and bang, your folder dies too.
  • Wrong drive location - Have you permanently assigned a drive letter to the external drive? Do you plug in other memory cards or USB sticks? If multiple devices are attached, but no permanent drive was assigned, your D: external could now be an E: thanks to your USB stick of cat pictures.
  • Renamed your drive - Similarly, on Macs, the external drive is instead given a name, change that name so your /Volumes/DropboxDrive/ is now /Volumes/CoolMemes/ and you destroy the connection to the folder.

Jay
Community Moderator @ Dropbox
https://dropbox.com/support


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Re: Dropbox deleted all my files!

Dropboxer
Dropboxer
As you can see from the above, there are a lot of various ways that your files are susceptible to deletion. I’m certain there must be some other exceptionally rare instances that I haven’t covered here, and if I do recall them, I’ll edit my posts accordingly.

Hopefully this wasn’t too boring, but educational instead. We treat your data well, and are always hurt when you suggest we deleted it for no reason. Keep the above in mind to avoid losing any of your files, and your syncing days will continue peacefully.

Jay
Community Moderator @ Dropbox
https://dropbox.com/support


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