28 February 2011

Why do people fear something that is statistically safe?

Every time an airline crashes suddenly out of the ground pops all of the people saying "see, this is why I never fly on an airplane".  Never mind the fact that these same people drive in automobiles every day where they are a bazillion times (statistic might be exaggerated slightly) more likely to get killed.  Hell, you are far more likely to be killed doing housework in your own home - but one news story justifies being scared of flying.

Well, I can understand that to some extent.  Flying is not exactly natural to human beings and jumps around in an airplane can be a little jarring to confidence.  Still, when a plane crashes it proves nothing except that the safest form of travel is not completely immune to accidents.

I mention this because Google had an incident on their servers where 0.08 percent of their customers lost their emails in Gmail.  Sure, a small percentage but with a couple hundred million users that still leaves 16 million folks with a shocker.  Small tidbit of information that most people are missing, however.  Google has backups and is restoring all of the lost data.  So while the story is "Google lost their customers emails" the fact is they didn't.  All of the customers will get their email back but it might take them a couple of days to get it back online.

This story is not so much about statistics since if the data was lost a percentage of 0.08 in years of Gmail use is still far safer than storing your emails locally.  No, this is about grasping the facts.  Gmail did not lose the data and yet it is being framed as though they did.  So now the comment boards are lit up with folks saying, and I quote, "This is why I DONT use the cloud".  Genius.

So now we have stories piggybacking on this saying you need to backup your data.  Look, I am not saying backing up your data is a bad idea.  I highly recommend backing up anything important and email is certainly something important.  However, Gmail is already backing up your email and is proving it by recovering all of the lost data.  So, why would you back up something that is already being backed up by one of the most powerful technology companies in the world?  If you believe Google is that inept perhaps you should not be using Gmail to begin with?  Perhaps.