Collective backups

I’ve not set this up, but I think it would be a good idea.

The problem:

You have a NAS or a hard drive in a drawer or a second computer with some storage space. And you do backups, because that’s the sensible thing to do in case your main computer breaks. But you also want to still have your data even if someone steals all your computers or your house burns down or some other calamity happens.

The easy way to solve this would be to pay a company to keep all your stuff on their servers. But that’s expensive and also it kind of sucks that everything is based around paying a company money.

(Is it expensive? Backblaze costs $70 a year. Compare: About $140 for contents insurance, which would replace all my stuff in a similar situation, or $35 for a 2TB external hard drive, which could back up all my stuff in cases that are much less calamitous. Depends on how you feel about money, and how you feel about your data.)

And you have a couple of friends in a similar situation, and they have the same problem and feel similarly about paying rent to a large company.

A solution:

Everyone sets up Syncthing for their backups. Syncthing is an open source, peer to peer, encrypted program that keeps a set of files in sync between two or more computers. It does all the stuff so that the computers can talk to each other over the internet (even if they’re moving around and connecting to random wifi hotspots, like a laptop or a phone would be) and also figures out what files have been changed and sends the changes between them.

This is actually a pretty good way to keep backups yourself - if you have two computers, you can set up Syncthing and stuff will keep synced between the two and you don’t have to remember to do back ups manually.

But you can also set it up so that all your stuff also gets synced with your friend’s computer. And now you have off-site redundancy. Maybe your friend is happy to just do this for you, because y’know, you’re friends. Or maybe you agree that in return you’ll let them sync their stuff onto your computer. Now, probably your friend does not have the kind of setup that can guarantee perfect uptime. Their internet might flake out, they might upgrade something and break their computer for a week, they might get all their stuff stolen. There are two answers to this. One is: this is already a secondary backup, in case something catastrophic happens to your stuff, so you can probably assume that stuff isn’t going to happen at the same time something catastrophic happens to your stuff. Or you can find a third friend and divide the risk even more. Insert extra slices of swiss cheese as appropriate.

So, a final thing to address: if you upload your shit to Backblaze or Dropbox or wherever, you kinda trust that they won’t go snooping through it. They have a business model which is about storing things, and about not looking at that stuff more than they are legally obliged to. But a friend does not have a business model, and might decide to snoop. Or they might have a housemate who has access (because their computer is also the thing they use to play music in the living room, say). Two answers I can see here: one is to only do this with people you have a basic level of trust with. Or with data that is important to you but not something where there are catastrophic consequences to having someone poke around. And the second is that you can use Syncthing’s new encrypted mode, which stores stuff on a computer without letting the person who runs that computer see the actual contents of the files.

So. Seems like a nice idea? If you have friends who have a reasonable level of technical skill, and a preference for co-operative solutions over capitalist ones. Like I said, I haven’t set this up yet, but if you have, I’d be curious to hear how it goes.

05 April 2022