Monday, July 14, 2008

About this blog

Once upon a time there was a company called Streamload offering data backup, file sharing and file hosting services.

It was very popular as it offered unlimited storage, instead charging for downloads by volume. Some users had many gigabytes of data stored, even thousands of gigabytes.

Streamload, without any discussion with customers, separated the storage function - the actual servers - from customer liaison - the user interface, billing and customer support.

Storage was handled by a new company, Nirvanix, where most Streamload employees continued to work.

The customer end was called Mediamax and Streamload customers were transferred to it.

During this re-structuring a disaster occurred. An investor, Charlie Jackson, explained in a posting on the Techcrunch website: "Around the time this spin-out was happening, Nirvanix engineers screwed up royally and accidentally deleted half the files. Most were recovered over time, but it took months, and there was never 100% recovery (I never got some of files back)."

[UPDATE 29 July 2008: Although invited to comment specifically on these media reports prior to this blog opening, Nirvanix, in its reply, did not do so. Today it has emailed alleging the Techcrunch article that reproduced a comment alleging it was a Nirvanix employee who deleted the files is 'inaccurate and libelous'].

See the full article quoting this posting at:
http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/07/10/mediamaxthelinkup-closes-its-doors/

Mediamax was slow to explain what happened. It's official blog gave little information and did not allow comments. Customer support was slow to reply and many customers found the information misleading.

An unofficial users blog was set up called 'Mediamax - we need you!'. See:
http://mediamaxusers.blogspot.com/

Eventually Mediamax Communications Director, John Hood, accepted the offer to post information. He was adamant that there was no longer any connection between Mediamax and Nirvanix. A posting on the official blog responded to a Techcrunch article questioning what connection there was as follows, as reported on the users blog at:
http://mediamaxusers.blogspot.com/2007/08/finally-bit-of-disclosure.html

---Quote from the Mediamax blog
The consumer online service became "MediaMax" and a second entity, Nirvanix, was founded as a new and separate company. We ("MediaMax") continue to focus on the consumer online storage space (B2C) as we have done for many years. We can't talk about Nirvanix as they are an independent company; however, we can say that we never changed over to Nirvanix, as the article suggested, and are not using their new system now.
---quote ends

Users were correct to distrust this assurance and the claim that the companies were independent. John Hood admitted the truth in July 2008 - see his full post at:
http://thelinkupusers.blogspot.com/2008/07/nirvanix-has-our-data.html

---Quote from John Hood post
I think the only time we intentionally lied was when we denied being a customer of Nirvanix. That was a Nirvanix demand.... And yes, your files are at Nirvanix. It's now up to them to decide if they want to give you access to MediaMax.
---quote ends

So apparently Mediamax lied about where files were hosted at the insistance of Nirvanix.

With millions of files gone, reportedly due to a Nirvanix error, a file recovery process was initiated by Mediamax, but had only limited success. The image of Mediamax bombed. Its awful handling of customer relations was a major contributing factor (see the user blog for examples).

Posters to the Mediamax Users blog tracked the process and some engaged with Mediamax on testing a new file-managing system. To the users surprise this was suddenly launched in April 2008 as a beta project with an annoucement that the Mediamax system would close. The new system had a new name: The Linkup. This was still the Mediamax company, however, and still using Nirvanix for storage.

Mediamax signatories with free accounts had these closed and their data deleted in the re-branding exercise. Some received a week's notice by email, some say they never received any notification at all. Some returned from a week off line to find all their data - not already deleted by the 'Nirvanix screw up' - had gone for ever.

Paying customers were told to schedule the transfer of their files from Mediamax to The Linkup interface. The scheduler didn't work and was discontinued. Mediamax said it would arrange the transfer itself. Apparently 45% of files failed to register under The Linkup's user interface and were lost. Links to hosted files also died, despite a promise to maintain the Mediamax links, at least until December 2008. Stung by criticism that he was wrong when he said problems had been solved, John Hood commented in a post after he had left The Linkup, see:
http://thelinkupusers.blogspot.com/2008/07/nirvanix-has-our-data.html

---Quote from John Hood
And for the record I've never lied. I simply related what I was told by Engineering. Sometimes they weren't able to live up to their promises but that's true for every tech company. There was nothing nefarious going on. We're guilty of not living up to expectations for the service not of lying.
---quote ends

So Mediamax customers found themselves to be customers of The Linkup, with more problems than before, and an unoffical forum for users of The Linkup was started at:
http://thelinkupusers.blogspot.com/

In a poll on the blog, 47% (51 votes) said the found The Linkup useless and were leaving. The same number said they lived in hope of being able to access their files. 6% (5 votes) said they found The Linkup service 'Brilliant - much improved'.

One positive development was that The Linkup did allow comments on its official blog and the unofficial blog directed people there. However, The Linkup later turned off comments and deleted those that had been left as many were reporting faults and making complaints. In addition some people found files from strangers in their accounts and were trying to identify who the real owners might be. This careless handling of private data by The Linkup was possibly a breach of data protection law and something it did not want to draw attention to.

Then in July 2008 The Linkup suddenly announced it was closing down and that people had until 8 August to download files, if the files had been registered in The Linkup system.

An indication of the support The Linkup can be expected to provide during this period is shown by the fact the Communications Director has already left the company. A user reports receiving a parting message regarding possible refunds as follows, see:
http://thelinkupusers.blogspot.com/2008/07/nirvanix-has-our-data.html

---Quote begins
Thanks for writing. I'm sorry to hear that you haven't been able to access your files. I wish I could give you a refund, but we simply have no money. In fact, the company is several hundred thousands of dollars in debt and will soon be filing for bankruptcy. I thnk you only recourse is to join the company's other creditors in bankruptcy court.

Thanks,

John Hood
Director, Customer Support
The Linkup
---quote ends

So what assistance can be expected from Nirvanix, which holds data belonging to others and, according to the report quoted above, was responsible for deleting millions of files, the error that brought down Mediamax. The answer is : none at all. It's message to users of The Linkup is available at:
http://thelinkupusers.blogspot.com/2008/07/we-are-stuffed-message-from-nirvanix.html

--Message from Nirvanix to Luzo Orbit
Dear Mr Orbit,

theLinkUp (TLU) built their applications using Nirvanix as a back end storage platform, connecting their application to our service through an API. Without the TLU application, and its database which maps users to their files Nirvanix cannot decipher which files belong to each user. The same is true for any application interaction with back end storage and is not unique to TLU.

As has been noted by many TLU users, many cannot either find their files or have found that other TLU files are in their accounts. This isn't a physical storage issue but rather TLU has somehow corrupted their database in the build or deployment of the TLU application. Unfortunately, as we are completely separate companies, Nirvanix has had no control over the build, deployment or management of the TLU application nor will we when it is shut down on August 8th, 2008.

For the benefit of TLU customers, Nirvanix has agreed to extend its data services to TLU, at no cost, so that files that are in TLU system can be retrieved during the period stated on their site. After the TLU application ceases, there will be no way to access the files.
Best Regards,

Jonathan
---message ends

To my mind, Nirvanix should show a little more concern for users. If it was a company warehousing house contents I doubt it would be able to dump everything in the incinerator simply because an agent had mislaid some keys and their filing cabinet had fallen over and the index cards had become mixed up. Particularly if the warehousing company was part of the same enterprise when entrusted with the items.

How Nirvanix responds to customers who paid, via Mediamax/The Linkup, for its services will become evident up to the 8 August and beyond.

This case raises important questions for anyone using on-line storage, sharing and hosting services who may think it wise to ask who is actually storing the data and what responsibility they will take for it.

Many people fear they have lost irreplacable and valuable data, though it still exists on Nirvanix servers.

The principles around who is responsible for data in cases such as this may be something that requires investigation by a Congressional or Senate Committee.

Follow this blog for news.

6 comments:

Iceage said...

Has anyone done a search to see if Nirvanix has a customer complaint record anywhere on the internet?

SomeoneWhoReallyHatesNirvanix said...

Okay, this is the part that is confusing/troubling me.

If I understand all I have read so far correctly, there is a question of some users' files showing up in other users' accounts.

Is it true that this particular snafu only happened during/after the last shift from MediaMax to TLU? ie., that this was not a problem during the previous migration from Streamload to MediaMax?

I had a lot of personal files in my account and some of them included things like passwords and financial information (stupid of me, I know), so I really wish we could have some more light shed on this particular issue.

Secondly, there seem to be comments to the effect that user files may have been retained by Nirvanix on their servers, as though Nirvanix asserted ownership over that data.

Have I misunderstood? Did you actually mean that Nirvanix kept the *software* on which the system operated, but not the user files?

If not... I fail to understand how this can be legal - Nirvanix does not own those files, the users do! So how can it be legal for Nirvanix to insist on keeping those files? Again, this is something that I would really love to have some clarification on - is Nirvanix STILL sitting on all our old files? What the hell do they plan to do with them, since they apparently can't give 'em back to us? It seems pointless that they would allow the data to sit there taking up useful HD space. I would suspect they deleted it long ago. No?

Anyway. I mention this only as a point for any users considering legal action to take into account. Seems like outright theft to me.

I hope some of your other more well-informed readers have some more in-depth info on these issues to share with us!

Luzo Orbit said...

Response to someonewhoreallyhatesnirvanix.

Users posting on these blogs only reported other people's files turning up in their accounts in the move from Mediamax to The Linkup. As you suggest, these may well have contained secure and personal data. As the blog says, the mishandling of this data may actually be illegal under data protection laws of some countries.

The files are stored on Nirvanix servers. Neither Mediamax nor The Linkup owned the storage service - it was subcontracted to Nirvanix. Nirvanix hasn't asserted ownership over the data - it is simply on their servers. The data belongs to those who entrusted it to Mediamax/The Linkup and, unknowingly, to Nirvanix.

The actual files are on the Nirvanix servers. Whether The Linkup interface was actually hosted there or on The Linkup webserver is another question, though not really relevant that I can see. The key thing is where our files are.

Nirvanix is not insisting on keeping the files. I imagine it is keen to delete them so it can sell the space to some other company to sell on to unsuspecting customers. It has said that it will not delete the files until 8 August 2008. After that date they could be gone for ever - which is the problem. The data does not belong to Nirvanix and the owners want it back.

This is just reiterating what was in the post above. I hope it makes more sense now.

This is the blog to watch for news. No need to post the same questions regarding Nirvanix on the other blogs.

SomeoneWhoReallyHatesNirvanix said...

Thanks for the clarification Luzo! This sets my mind slightly more at ease since I happened to delete most of my personal files before the final move to TLU. (Yup, I had a feeling I was going to have to write off that annual fee I'd just paid for 2008... :} :)

The only thing that worries me now is the fact that I found some old files in my account at TLU after the move that I had deleted on MediaMax. Somehow they still showed back up on TLU, which is quite strange. It makes me wonder if, in trying to restore missing files, the TLU people actually went back into older snapshots or backups to retrieve files.

It may be selfish of me but I really hope that Nirvanix does delete those files after August 8th (since they say we can no longer get them back due to the corrupted index files anyway), because I would hate to think of my personal information sitting on these boxes and being accessible by god knows who :}

Sorry for double-posting!

Iceage said...

Personally I would be more worried that people may now have access to that data from the screw up that resulted in many people getting other peoples files.

The lack of comments being generated here lately tells me that people have quit flogging this and realize Nirvanix has legal ground here. Which is a shame. Worse still that bankruptcy is will protect TLU. Though civil law will hunt them down if any damages occur due to miss use of personal files by any party. Yes I had a lawyer look into that one, as we were taking care of something else.

I think there will be a few closing statements on the 8th and then it's just a personal thing to keep an eye out in case Steve Irwin or the rest at SL/MM/TLU show up with a new company.

In the mean time we have all moved to new storage companies and to those have actually read the terms and conditions will note that they are basically the same as TLU and no one is held resposible for your data. I just hope they handle it better than SL/MM/TLU and above all are better moral people.

ThoseiINCOMPETENTFUCKSshouldbemadetopay said...

Mediamax/TLU/Nirvanix execs and directirs had better keep their identities well guarded if they ever plan on visaiting Colombia S.A. where I (a once Streamload user who paid for files to be segurely stored with backups) live: In Colomboa there is a saying that "Every problem has a solution"!

I realize that this problem may never get solved but if it happened in Colombia you could be assured that it would NEVER happen again!

There has to be some legal way of either getting our files back or at least ensuring compensation for users who whae irretrievably lost sensitive or important data!

My personal view is fairly unsympathetic to excuses about engineers errors. My opinion is that those incompetent arseholes responsible should be barred from ever offering thier services again and that the full extent of the law should be served against them; they deserve to be fucked over big time! Of course that's just my opinion and none of this statement should be regarded as an actuak threat although if I get the chance of taking part in any legal action that might result in some form of compensation or at the very least a feelong of justice having been done yjen I will jump at it!