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Microsoft's Danger and T-Mobile Sidekick Users' Data

What if your data gets lost in the cloud?

This weekend, T-Mobile subscribers using the popular Sidekick mobile devices received word that data including their contacts, calendars, notes and photos had almost certainly has been lost. The data was reportedly lost by the aptly named Microsoft subsidiary Danger, Inc. With more and more individuals and businesses storing their data "in the cloud," the massive data loss has sparked fear and questions about what, if any, legal recourse consumers have.

Fist of all, what is "cloud computing"? In the wake of the Danger/Microsoft/T-Mobile mess, tech folks are debating the finer points of what exactly "cloud computing" means. For our purposes (and those of T-Mobile users who may have lost their data), cloud computing simply refers to delivering services in which people's information is stored outside their own PC and network. Here, Sidekick users' contacts, photos and such were stored by Microsoft/Danger (who contracted with T-Mobile to store the information). Web-based email can be another common example of cloud computing, when messages are not stored on the user's computer or network, but by Google, Yahoo, or any other provider.

Information stored in "the cloud" can be accessed and used through the internet, with users not necessarily backing up the information themselves. That is, unless the data vanishes from the cloud.

The initial message from T-Mobile indicated that perhaps all Sidekick users' data had been permanently lost. Now, T-Mobile has stated that data services have been restored (hopefully with better back-ups) and that most Sidekick users' data will hopefully be restored.

So, what rights would a T-Mobile customer have if their data was lost? As with many consumer issues with cell phone carriers, the answer may come down to the reams of fine print in their T-Mobile user contract.

Like many consumer contracts, cell phone contracts contain provisions limiting the carrier's liability. These contracts often include language stating that the user may not sue for negligence or for a wide range of damages (often including lost or damaged data). Unfortunately for consumers, such limitations of liability have routinely been enforced by courts.

This does not mean that we won't see lawsuits over the fiasco. In addition to trying to overcome limitations on T-Mobile's liability, users may decide to seek damages from Microsoft/Danger.

For now, T-Mobile is offering a month of free data service (valued at $20) and a $100 gift card to those who it determines "have experienced a significant and permanent loss of personal content."

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