Don’t trust your memory card

dead-cardSomeone recently contacted me about an ongoing issue with the GoPro Hero3 cameras, a line of very popular action cameras designed to record video in extreme situations. It seems that there is an issue with the cameras where 64GB SDXC cards are being outright killed by the cameras, and many people have lost irreplaceable footage because of it. There are various quotes from GoPro’s customer support that basically blame everything but the camera itself, and a firmware update that tried to fixed it also failed to do so.

Cameras are slightly outside out coverage zone, but memory cards are not. I don’t personally even consider buying a phone that doesn’t have a microSD expansion slot these days, because backups, photos, and videos actually do take up so much space that it’s not just something I think I need, it’s something I do need. I have actually had memory cards go bad on me, and while that wasn’t a big problem because I backup everything, I know lots of people where the death of a phone’s memory card would destroy a lot of irreplaceable data.

The scary thing is that one of the cards I’ve lost died due to a device problem, at least everything points to that being the case. It worked before a routine reboot, and was dead afterwards. A reboot involves unmounting and remounting the card, so the question then becomes if the device killed the card during this process or if the card was at fault for dying during the process. Either way, it left me with a very dead 16GB microSD card, and it didn’t help me a single bit that I went with a brand name card; it died just the same.

I didn’t pursue the matter to either Samsung (phone manufacturer) or SanDisk (card manufacturer) back then, as I only lost the card. Like I said though, a lot of people would have lost a lot of irreplaceable memories if this happened to them. Sometimes consumer data recovery programs can help, but broken memory cards have a tendency to not even be visible to a computer. There are companies out there who can recover data from otherwise unreadable memory cards, but that sort of procedure costs a lot of money, and as such is only really an option when what’s on the card is really important.

It used to be that digital cameras were so simple that practically everyone transferred their photos and videos over to a computer the first chance they got, and maybe even burned them to a CD or had them printed on photo paper. That day and age has gone, and has been replaced with mobile devices that are so capable of both capturing, storing, and displaying photos and videos that the need to offload anything has diminished. On top of that, memory cards are often used as the sole backup location for both root and non-root backup programs, which gives the illusion that something is safe when it’s stored on the memory card. It’s not, and the need for a secondary backup location is stronger than ever.

Still, the user shouldn’t have to take the full responsibility of keeping data safe. The GoPro example is the most extreme of circumstances, since you have a device that cannot back itself up within seconds like a mobile device, and on top of that, it’s pretty clear that the device itself is running around killing off cards, without the company behind it seeming to care all too much. Even mobile devices cannot be required to have an instant backup service turned on for everything, either, as a high end phone can store a lot of vacation footage on a 64GB card before it gets back to a connection fast enough to offload it. Bottom line, any software or hardware bugs relating to memory card handling really need to be taken seriously by both the device manufacturer and the OS manufacturer.

Still, I doubt you’d get either the card manufacturer or the device manufacturer to ever pay for a professional data recovery procedure, as this is one area where it’s too easy to blame it on everything else (as proven by the GoPro case). At the end of the day, if you put any data on your card that you don’t want to lose, make sure you back it up somewhere else, too.

Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets and tends to stick with his choice of device for a long time as a result of that. After a five year break from writing, he's back to share this view with the world once again.