1/7/2013: Updated with follow-up information

Early in 2012, I realized that I really needed a backup solution for all of the audio, video, and photo files across my computers.  I have some very valuable files, including the source files for what would soon turn into over 85 audiobooks.  So, I began looking around online to find a good online backup solution.
 
I eventually decided upon a company called ZipCloud.  For the price of $199 ZipCloud offered two years of unlimited backup for a single machine.  It seemed too good to be true, but was relatively comparable to other cloud backup services, so I decided to give it a go.  I purchased the two years of backup service, plus a “supercharged” transfer package, which allowed me to upload my data to them at a faster transfer rate, and a license for an additional machine.  The supercharge service and the second license were approximately $40 per year in addition to the two year rate for the unlimited backup.
 
My initial experience with ZipCloud wasn’t great.  The uploads were painfully slow—even with my supercharged transfer rate.  That was to be expected—I had about 1.2 Terabytes of data that needed to be uploaded, and the connections I was using weren’t always of the highest speeds.  The backup client was clunky and not well-designed or written.  I had to uninstall and re-install it on a couple of occasions just to get it uploading again. 
 
Then, about 50% or so into my uploading, I had a machine die on me.  I contacted technical support to have them transfer the license from my dead machine to the new machine.  They screwed it up and transferred the wrong license.  Then I had to start my backup/upload all over again because, rather than transferring the wrong license back, they started a new one.  (It’s very convoluted.)  Their support team did a very poor job of actually reading my emails and responding appropriately.  They tended to send quick “I scanned your email for keywords” responses without actually paying attention to what troubles I was actually having.
 
Receiving support like this is particularly frustrating for me, as I make my living managing teams of people who provide high-level support for very technically complicated systems.  As a PM of operations, I work very hard to ensure that my folks provide top-notch support, and when we fall down, it’s my job to make things right. 
 
And lest you think that perhaps I wasn’t clear in my communications, I will also point out that I have spent several years working for software companies.  Part of my job is to write up software bugs, development tasks, and repro steps.  I know how to communicate support and service issues in a way that is relatively straightforward—all in an effort to assist people with troubleshooting.  This was just bad support.  And, of course, there was no phone number to call, no live chat.  Just email with people who weren’t really reading the emails.
 
However, my experience in this industry has taught me that this sort of support isn’t uncommon online service community, particularly with low-cost providers, so I was willing to just “let it go.”  After all, my stuff was being backed up, albeit slowly. I was willing to make some allowances because it was an inexpensive service, providing backup for a large amount of data.  You can’t expect everything for nothing.
 
Then, in August, I noticed that my backups had been stalled for weeks.  I knew I was generating new files, but none of them were actually getting backed up. So, in frustration I contact ZipCloud technical support again to get some information and figure out what the problem was.  This was the response:
 
Thank you for your email. 
 
I am really sorry to say that due to the total size of the files that you are trying to back up you may wish to consider a business solution for your backup needs. 
 
Regrettably at this time our business plans are based on a similar server configuration and Fair Usage Policy in the terms and conditions.
 
I’m sorry for the inconvenience this may cause, please let us know how you wish to proceed.
 
There is an unfortunate trend in the technology industry when it comes to the word Unlimited.  You see, to me (and the rest of the world), the word unlimited means “without limit.”  In the case of ZipCloud, the word unlimited was intimated to mean that there was no upper limit on the amount of data that I, as a customer, would be able to store on the ZipCloud servers.  Unfortunately, ZipCloud’s definition of Unlimited comes from the same playbook as cell phone providers that offer unlimited data plans that aren’t actually unlimited.
 
I mean, yeah, bait and switch is illegal, but whatever.
 
I was frustrated.  I had spent eight months backing up what amounted to a terabyte of data only to be informed that, despite the fact that I had paid for unlimited backup, high-speed transfers, and a second license, I had backed up too much data and needed a business plan.  A business plan which, by the way, has the exact same rules as the personal plans, and wouldn’t work for my needs.  Yeah, that makes sense. Not at all underhanded. 
 
I realized, of course, that I was not going to win a fight on this issue, so I tried to take a fairly mature approach.  My response:
 
I would appreciate it if you could please set my account not to auto-renew when my subscription comes to an end.  We will find another solution for backup.  I, as a customer, have made the decision not to do business with companies that use the word "unlimited" when what they provide is, in fact, limited.  We would have happily paid for additional space, but to promise a feature that there is no intention of providing as a means of attracting customers is distasteful and reflects poorly on the brand.
 
I am sorry that your organization was not able to provide the service that was promised.
 
Thank you for your time, and if you could, please reply when you have modified my account as necessary to ensure that it does not auto-renew at the end of our two-year pre-paid period.  I would like to keep confirmation of that change on file in the event that there is a misunderstanding on 12/1/2014 when our subscription is set to renew.
 
He never responded, and my life, working two full time jobs, got in the way, so this issue slipped my mind.  That was my mistake.  I never followed up to ensure that it was done properly.
 
Then, on the mornings of 1/5/2013, I received an email from an automated system at ZipCloud, informing me that my credit card had been charged another $40 for the supercharged backup and additional license.  I figured that it had been a mistake, and sent a polite message to the original ticket, alerting the team that there had been a mistake, and my account was not to have been charged.  The following email farce ensured:
 
Support Agent #1:
I'm really sorry to hear that you wish to cancel your Online Backup Account with us.
Before you cancel your account, I would love to try to resolve any issues you may have and offer you 6 months FREE backup as a goodwill gesture if I can resolve your issues and get you to stay.
Please let me know if you need help with anything and would like me to arrange 6 months free Backup credits for you to stay a happy Zipcloud customer.
 
By not replying your ticket will remain on hold and we will not know you wish to continue with cancellation.
 
Me:
I appreciate the offer, Karl, but unfortunately, Zip Cloud will not be a valid solution for me backup needs, as the system no longer allows back to upload additional files, having hit a 1TB limit.  Unless policies have changed at ZipCloud, and the meaning of "Unlimited" has been updated to mean unlimited, I'm going to need to find another solution.
 
I would appreciate it if you can set the account not to renew as per my original request back in September.
 
Support Agent #2:
Hello Matt,
 
I'm really sorry to hear that you wish to cancel your Online Backup Account with us.
 
We really are so sad you wish to leave we want to offer you one final offer you will not believe or see anywhere else. How about a free 12 months of backup? We will not charge you for another 1 Year and your subscription will continue to run for free for 12 months.
 
Please let us know how you would like to proceed. Your response is awaited on this.
 
Me:
I understand that you are only following procedures, but I find it a little frustrating that I have had to explain this four times now.
 
Unfortunately, 12 additional months of free backup service will do me no good. Zipcloud's support team has already explained to me (as part of this very ticket) that I can no longer back up new data.  Far from being an "unlimited" backup solution, there is, in fact, a limit to the amount of data that can be backed up, and I have hit that limit.  Since I hit that limit in September, I have been unable to back up any new data, essentially making the service unusable. 12 additional months of being unable to back up newly created files will do me no good.
 
I appreciate your attempts to keep me as a customer, but until Zipcloud changes its policies to provide a service in line with its marketing message (i.e., truly _unlimited_ backup), there is no possibility that I can remain a customer, paying or otherwise. 
 
As requested previously, I would appreciate it if you could please set my account not to auto-renew when it expires (as originally requested in September of 2012.)  Additionally, I would appreciate it if you could please refund the $39.90 that was charged to my card on January 5, 2013, as that charge took place AFTER my request to have my account cease automatic rebilling that was placed in September.
 
Thank you again for your attempts, and I wish you the best. Please feel free to reach out if you have any further question.
 
Support Agent #3:
Thank you for your email.
 
I would like to inform you that we have updated our application, as you have purchased the Unlimited plan, now you can backup unlimited data on your account.
 
— I can confirm that I have now disabled auto charge on your account. Please be aware that your Backup and services will not automatically renew. We will issue invoices for renewals 7 days before the due date, and any outstanding invoices will now have to be paid manually by the due date to avoid any disruption to your account.
 
If you would like to cancel a service upon renewal, please contact us 14 days before the renew date so we can remove the service from your account, and no invoice will be issued.
 
— Regrettably we are unable to refund additional services purchased. This is outlined in our terms and conditions that you had agreed to upon sign up (ZipCloud.com/terms):
 
6. ZC License to You; Renewals, Modifications, Limits
(d) Cancellation of Renewals.
 
"…all sales are final and not subject to a refund for the following products multiple computer extra, priority support, additional support, increased bandwidth and other additional products that may be offered from time to time that do not fall within the initial package purchased by you. All extras are concerned one time purchases for the period you selected and will not be eligible for a refund."
 
Please let me know if there is anything else I can help you with.
 
Me:
Thank you.
 
— Regrettably we are unable to refund additional services purchased. This is outlined in our terms and conditions that you had agreed to upon sign up (ZipCloud.com/terms):
 
I did contact you and request cancellation more than 14 days in advance.  I requested cancellation in September of 2012. (That request can be found in this ticket's history). I should not be penalized for the failure on the part of Zipcloud to cancel my service as per my original request. The charge that was processed on 1/5/2013 was done without my permission.
 
It's not a great deal of money, but I will be filing a claim against the charge with my bank.
 
A note to ZipCloud: A little word of advice from someone who does high-level support for a living. If you’re going to have a ticketing system, perhaps it would behoove your support agents to actually read the ticket history before responding at the least.  At the best, for non-urgent issues, it may make sense to have your support agents “own” an issue until conclusion. It’s a little more resource intensive on the front end, but it leads to much faster resolution, and far fewer instances of agents not listening to the customer.
 
$40. It seems like such a trivial thing, over such a simple service.  The realist in me wants to just let it go.  It’s only $40. It's a night at the movies with a friend. It's 2/3rds of a week's groceries. It's 80% of my monthly fast food budget. $40 is not the end of the world.  But I feel as though I have been taken to the cleaners by this company. They offered Unlimited backup, then decided I was using too much space, so they stopped accepting new files.  They never contacted me, letting me know I was at a limit, nor did they provide me the option of paying extra to expand my storage.  Just a “sorry, there’s nothing we can do.” 
 
Then, when I requested they cancel my account, they failed to do so. I alerted them to their mistake, and they try to win me back by offering me six months of a service I can’t use. I explained again. Then they offer me twelve months of a service I can’t use. Then FINALLY, when they canceled my account, they have the temerity to explain that they upgraded their systems, it really IS unlimited now, and by the way, they can’t refund my money for services that I ordered.
 
Unreal.
 
In the end, I’m glad I had this experience.  I was willing to offer ZipCloud the benefit of the doubt on a few things.  When you offer a low-priced service, you have to cut corners somewhere.  What I did not expect were flat-out lies in marketing, or a support staff that seems patently incapable of actually reading the words that I have written. I’m glad I figured out how the company operates before it was truly catastrophic. Based on this experience, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if ZipCloud suddenly decided that downloading a Terabyte of my own backed up files was breaking the terms of service, despite the fact that I had lost all of my personal belongings in a natural disaster or house fire.  “Sorry! You can’t get your files back. Oh, and by the way, we didn’t actually back up half of your files in the first place.”
 
When I first signed on with ZipCloud, I suggested them a good service for inexpensive cloud backup, despite some of my early reservations.  I would like to rescind that recommendation.  I cannot recommend using ZipCloud as a backup service, even if you have less data to backup than do I. ZipCloud’s lack of competent support, lack of ownership (or even comprehension) of support tickets, and lack of honest, straightforward terms of service makes relying upon them as a backup for your important files unwise.
 
In the end, I found another backup service that I’m investigating now that I think will provide me with the service ZipCloud was never able to. And based on my initial interactions with them, they actual read the emails that come in instead of sending out canned responses.
 
And you can bet that I'll be disputing that $40 charge first thing tomorrow morning.
 
Update (1/7): This morning I did receive notification from ZipCloud that they had decided to refund my money.  While I'm glad I don't have to go through the process of disputing the claim, it's unfortunate that I even had to threaten it.  They should have just taken care of the issue.  In any case. Food for thought.
  • annie valentine

    Hey Matt, sorry to bother you here. I live in Germany and I’m looking for an arrangement of Each Life That Touches Ours For Good for a stake conference solo. I saw you used to have one posted and wondered if I could bum a copy of it off you? email me back if you would be willing to share it. Thank you!

  • Nick Cassidy

    I’m seriously pissed off that having signed up for ZipCloud I find I have to pay extra for a bunch of things that I assumed were included. You only get to see the menu of these after joining. For example, it’s another £20 a year to back up files over 1Gb. £15 a year to back up my video files without selecting each one individually. £8 a year to access your trash can. It would cost over £150 a year to buy all of the features that make this service useful, and I haven’t included those that you would expect to be extra such as network drive backup.

  • sakke

    Seems like I ran into this also. I only got threats from their legal department who don’t seem to understand plain english; I’ve asked 3 times for an explanation why they are terminating my plan, but they are not offering any – they are telling me they will refund me, though. Time to move on.

  • http://www.openbookaudio.com Matt Armstrong

    I have switched over to Bitcasa instead. They had a rough patch when they first went from Beta to official release, but things seem rather stable now. And they really do seem to understand the real meaning of the word Unlimited.

  • David Donner

    I chose zipcloud because of its “unlimited” storage. I was suckered into buying a bunch of add-ons that were hidden from you at the time of initial purchase, but they weren’t unreasonable. Then after some months using zipcloud to back up external drives (where I store my music, videos, and photos) that capability disappeared. I had to call to find out that they simply removed the ability to backup external drives. It is only possible by drag-and-drop, a tedious process that doesn’t actually track changes. You have to remember what needs backing up. Finally, after paying extra to back up two computers, I received an email from the legal department stating that I was using too much space in my “unlimited” backup account and my files would be deleted in 30 days unless I upgraded to a business account. There was no warning and the decision was irreversible. The “small increase” in cost would take me from about $10/month to over $100/month. “Unlimited” storage is a scam to get you hooked and then charge outrageous sums. Find another storage solution. Zipcloud is NOT a transparent company.

  • mb

    ZipCloud is terrible. So many hidden expenses. And just now they cancelled one of my licenses (which was supposed to be free, but whatever) and I can’t get it back. I’m dropping my account and moving on. I also get the feeling they’re not even reading my emails, because I get the same inane responses you got.

  • mb

    The “pay for files larger than 1GB” really pissed me off too.

  • Mark in MI/US

    ZipCloud did not work as advertised
    They refused my request for a refund
    Huge waste of time trying to troubleshoot a flawed application
    Seems like false advertising/fraud to me

    My two-month experience with ZipCloud: At first, the daily
    automatic backups I scheduled didn’t start at all. After installing a “new
    version,” backups began starting every five minutes. Yet another version
    solved those problems, but that’s when I discovered that hundreds of files I
    had selected for backups were never saved at all. To top things off, citing a
    30-day limit, ZipCloud refused to refund the $125 I’d spent for unlimited
    backup space for a year. Yet their website prominently displays an “Anytime
    Moneyback” guarantee.

  • Quidam Q. Agathezol

    I’ve had the exact same experience with ZipCloud. Started with them back in September – once i had 933 GB uploaded, nothing more would upload. They didn’t notify me of anything – I had to dig through their client’s log files to find a message indicating the account had been suspended. An email to ZC support yielded the same response – I was apparently using the service like a business, presumably because I was approaching 1 TB of used storage. Nine days later, they had only responded that I’d be hearing from someone “soon” – they refused to give me more information than that. At one point, though, they mysteriously mentioned that the “development team” was looking at my ticket. I asked why developers would need to look at my issue – that question, too, went unanswered. After 10 days, I was done with them and asked for a full refund. They didn’t say “no” but have thus far only reversed the first of two credit card charges they made to my account when I first signed up (long story, but their confused website and sign-up process required them to charge my total in two parts).

    I also note they are rarely, if ever, listed amongst the many summaries and reviews of cloud backup providers. About.com just updated their article listing 41 cloud providers. ZipCloud is nowhere to be found. STAY AWAY FROM THESE CLOWNS!

  • Charlie

    Just today, I had a similar experience as Matt with the duplicitous ass-clown outfit known as Zip Cloud. Prepaid for a 1-year plan for up to 250 GB of back up, only to get an email telling me I would need to upgrade, since I had signed up for a “trial service” and there was a limit to the amount of data I could transfer. I reminded them that not only had they already debited my account for the full year of 250 GB of storage, but this is a new laptop and I have only 61 GB total data on it. I copied and pasted the clause from their website that says they’ll gladly convert a prepaid 1-year or longer account to a month-to-month and refund the difference, but all I have gotten all day is the run-around, emails from 8 different ass-clowns who say they’re looking into it. I finally sent a dispute to my bank, outlining the entire experience of bait and switch sales tactics, customer non-service, and what I consider to be fraudulent activity, and told them I want to contest and reverse the charges immediately. Zip Cloud is yet another fraudulent outfit in this industry.

  • Robert Bradford

    Matt – thank you so much for posting this concise, beautifully written log of your experience with ZipCloud. It looks like I’m on track to have the exact same experience almost blow by blow. I just emailed ZipCloud customer service that I have no quibble with their backup service or even their business rates, just the fact that they did – and CONTINUE TO – LIE. I so hope this issue gets picked up by one of the scambusters and blown into national attention. Thanks.