Is it possible for you to lose a great deal of money if Apple or any other hardware manufacturer or service provider decide to delete files from your computer?

How safe are we in this day and age when our hardware is accessible to several different providers of hardware, services and media streaming companies?

Companies can alter history

James Pinkstone of Vellum Atlanta writes in his blog:

“One day, you won’t buy a movie. You’ll buy the right to watch a movie, and that movie will be served to you. If the companies serving the movie don’t want you to see it, or they want to change something, they will have the power to do so. They can alter history, and they can make you keep paying for things that you formerly could have bought. Information will be a utility rather than a possession. Even information that you yourself have created will require unending, recurring payments just to access.”

It is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which an application is removed from a mobile device by Apple, Microsoft or Google simply for not following their terms of service and this application is your Bitcoin wallet. What will you do to get your money back in this case?

They have removed, will and can remove data

In May 2016, James Pinkstone of Vellum Atlanta wrote a blog titled ‘Apple Stole My Music. No, Seriously’. In the blog he discusses how he lost access to files on his computer after he cancelled his Apple Music subscription.

He lays out in great detail what happened to the files after the Apple Music subscription was cancelled. The blog post went viral and as a consequence Apple even sent two of their support personnel to James’ house to try to get to the bottom of the issue. It is not unusual or unheard of that such things have happened.

Apple states regarding reports that iTunes is deleting music from people’s library without permission:

“In an extremely small number of cases users have reported that music files saved on their computer were removed without their permission. We’re taking these reports seriously as we know how important music is to our customers and our teams are focused on identifying the cause. We have not been able to reproduce this issue, however, we’re releasing an update to iTunes early next week which includes additional safeguards. If a user experiences this issue they should contact AppleCare.”

Yet while losing music files for a musician is quite a setback, what would happen if you were to lose a great many of your life savings if let’s say Apple decides to delete your Bitcoins?

After all at the end of the day your Bitcoin is nothing but computer files as well?

Amazon Kindle case

In 2012 the UK’s Guardian newspaper had reported the case of a Norwegian woman called Linn. Amazon had gone as far as to close her account, delete all the content on her kindle and warned her that any attempts to re-open an account will be thwarted as well.

In email communication released by the Guardian at that time, Amazon is said to have told the woman,

“We have found your account is directly related to another which has been previously closed for abuse of our policies. As such, your account has been closed and any open orders have been cancelled. Please understand that the closure of an account is a permanent action. Any subsequent accounts that are opened will be closed as well. Thank you for your understanding with our decision.”

The perils of such licensed content are many and have been covered in detail over the years.

However it does put the focus squarely back on what might happen if you depend on your device or your computer to store your Bitcoin and the device’s manufacturer decides that you are persona non grata.

Erasing your Bitcoin

There are many ways through which you can lose your Bitcoin and it doesn’t always have to be an evil big computer company who decides that you should not have access to your wallet anymore. Sometimes users simply do not make backups and depend solely on one wallet or device to keep their coin. James Howells, a Welsh IT worker threw out a hard drive containing 7,500 Bitcoins. These Bitcoins, according to the Telegraph, are buried under thousands of tonnes of rubbish in a landfill at Pillgwenlly, Newport, UK.

There have been cases where people have stored Bitcoin on USB drives and have consequently overwritten the USB drives with other data.

The truth is that Bitcoin is extremely vulnerable to either mistaken erasure or erasure done by a third party. It is thus extremely important to take good care of it. After all you do save paper money from third parties by keeping it in secure vaults and even check your pockets before tossing your clothes in the washing machine, why would you not do the same with your digital money?

Tips for preventing loss of Bitcoin

You should adopt these best practices and the chance that Apple or anyone else for that matter would not be able to get to your Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

  1. Invest in a good hardware wallet.
  2. Do not keep all your Bitcoin in just one wallet
  3. Make a will or write down instructions about what should be done with your digital assets.
  4. Make backups of your wallets or at least ensure that you have keys kept somewhere securely.
  5. If you are using mobile wallets, make sure they are platform independent.