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iCloud Drive is backing up files you haven't saved yet

Glenn Fleishman | Nov. 7, 2014
It's a feature, not a bug, but Glenn Fleishman thinks Apple should at least give users a choice.


The line between local and remote storage started blurring long ago. The moment you could save a file from within a program on a Mac or other OS to something that wasn't a physically connected hard drive--whether a network file server, a remote AFP volume elsewhere on the Internet, or a Finder-mounted whatever--you had to make a conscious effort to remember what was entirely within your control and what was not. Sure, remote files used to take longer to save: we'd watch a progress bar or beachball on larger files, and the latency reminded us.

Cloud storage and backups typically remove that latency by relying on synchronization instead of real-time transfer. This is an advantage, as we can keep working and have a stream of data leave our computer or mobile device, and, in the event of loss, crash, or theft, often recover what we lost. BBEdit and Adobe InDesign have long saved my bacon with local "journaling," writing nearly every keystroke into a local file used for recovery--after an app or system crash, the saved file is brought up to date with the journal, even if I haven't saved. Dropbox and Crashplan have likewise had the same impact when I hit the save key sequence frequently. If I put my Application Support folder for BBEdit into Dropbox, I get the advantage of both.

But this same seamlessness is problematic if we're not taking specific volition about where a file is stored. A particular case of this erupted last week when Jeffrey Paul documented how he discovered all of his unsaved documents in TextEdit and some other applications in Yosemite were being copied to iCloud Drive.

Michael Tsai, a long-time Mac developer, looked into it, and it's not new to Yosemite; Tsai offers advice on disabling this feature. (Paul's post has a NSFW work title, but is linked in Tsai's write-up.) Apple added this feature a release or two ago, and has a support document explaining it as part of Documents in the Cloud. I recall having unsaved documents on one Mac occasionally pop up, undesired, on other Macs in the past, perhaps due to network issues; I vaguely knew this was Apple's default behavior.

Even when you don't ultimately save a file to iCloud, until you choose a name and destination, it's being quietly written to help you against loss. But that's a problem with the cloud and an era in which we have justifiable paranoia about data being used by companies, criminal, and governments against our wishes and our interests.

Security expert and tireless privacy advocate Bruce Schneier reacted to Paul's post with alarm and then, as he received more information, less alarm and more appropriate cautionary words.


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