T-Mobile, Microsoft Say Sidekick Data May Be Recoverable, But Sales Suspended

T-Mobile and Microsoft are attempting damage control after a server outage at Microsoft subsidiary Danger wiped out personal data for roughly 800,000 users of T-Mobile's Sidekick smartphone. T-Mobile is now saying that some data may be recoverable, but the failure highlights doubts among some users about the viability of storing personal information in the cloud.

T-Mobile and Microsoft continued operating in full damage-control mode after a weekend server disruption wiped personal data from nearly 800,000 users' Sidekick smartphones.

The massive data failure, reportedly caused by a hardware problem on servers run by Microsoft subsidiary Danger, risks damaging the public perception of the cloud as a safe place for storing personal information. Microsoft is placing large strategic bets on the cloud, including a Web-based version of its upcoming Office 2010 productivity suite and Microsoft Azure, its public cloud-based developer platform.

"Based on Microsoft/Danger's latest recovery assessment of their systems, we must now inform you that personal information stored on your device ... almost certainly has been lost as a result of a server failure at Microsoft/Danger," T-Mobile said in an Oct. 10 statement. "Our teams continue to work around-the-clock in hopes of discovering some way to recover this information. However, the likelihood of a successful outcome is extremely low."

The personal data lost in the meltdown included personal contacts, calendar entries, lists and photos. As Microsoft engineers scrambled to repair the damage, users were told in an Oct. 12 posting on the T-Mobile Website to not turn off their Sidekick or remove the battery, lest they lose any chance of recovering the information.

In the meantime, T-Mobile has suspended Sidekick sales. As of Oct. 11, all models of the T-Mobile Sidekick LX on the company's Website were listed as "Temporarily Out of Stock," including the Limited Edition Tony Hawk. A T-Mobile spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal that device sales will remain offline until the online service is fully restored.

T-Mobile then opened a two-pronged public relations front, offering compensation to users and suggesting that all might not be lost with regard to their personal contacts.

"We are thankful for your continued patience as Microsoft/Danger continues to work on preserving platform stability and restoring all services for our Sidekick customers," said a corporate posting on the T-Mobile Forums. "Microsoft/Danger has teams of experts in place who are working around-the-clock to ensure this stability is maintained."

The posting claimed that the lost personal data might be recoverable.

"Recent efforts indicate the prospects of recovering some lost content may now be possible," it said. "We will continue to keep you updated on this front; we know how important this is to you."

Those customers with "significant and permanent loss of personal content," apparently, will receive a $100 "customer appreciation card" along with the free month of data service already deeded to Sidekick data customers. The card can be used toward either a customer's T-Mobile bill or other T-Mobile products and services.

A number of those customers, however, seemed decidedly unimpressed by the offer, at least based on the messages being left on the T-Mobile Forum.

"Can the $100 be used toward paying the early termination fee?" asked one.

"It's a courtesy gesture, but it's not enough," wrote another.

More seemed to question which customers would receive the cards, and how long it would take to determine whether the data was permanently lost.

"How is [card distribution] going to be determined, and how do we know if we call into the 'category'? I am still without my contacts, notes, calendar entries, old emails and texts, and still have no data [catalogue] or any of my ringtones," wrote a customer.

"It would be really nice to have a time frame as to whether or not I am one of the ones [affected] by permanent [loss] or not," another opined.

Whether such a massive data outage affects peoples' perceptions of the cloud, and their willingness to store a greater percentage of their work and personal lives on it, remains to be seen. Google Apps experienced outages of several hours' duration throughout 2009, but that downtime was not accompanied by loss of user data.