Should you back up important Windows folders to OneDrive?

Martin Brinkmann
Dec 28, 2022
Updated • Dec 28, 2022

OneDrive on Windows has a back up feature that many users of the operating system may be unaware of. It requires a OneDrive account, free or paid works, and may be used to back up the folders Desktop, Pictures and Documents to Microsoft's online storage solution.

Backing up files to OneDrive, or any other online storage solution, sounds like a good idea on first glance. You create a remote backup of important files and gain access to these files from any other device that you have access to and sign-in to OneDrive.

Even better, it is quite easy to set up and have it run on autopilot from that moment on. To access the feature, left-click on the OneDrive app icon on the Windows taskbar and select the cogwheel icon and then Settings.

When the Settings open, select the very first entry on the page. It is named Back up important PC folders to OneDrive. The Manage folder back up page opens.

OneDrive lists the three root folders Desktop, Documents and Pictures. All three are selected by default and the space they occupy on the hard drive is displayed. Below that, OneDrive lists how much online storage space would remain after the folders have been backed up to the storage solution.

A click on Start Backup begins the backup; it may take a while to complete, depending on the number of files in the folders and the Internet speed.

Here is why backing up entire folders to OneDrive is not a good idea:

  1. This is an all or nothing approach. See the 24 Gigabytes of files in the Documents folder on the screenshot above? There is no option to deselect subfolders or individual documents to bring down the storage requirements, speed up the process, or prevent certain data from being uploaded to OneDrive.
  2. Many users may need to purchase extra storage to even start the backup. New OneDrive users get just a few gigabytes of storage space by default.
  3. Media is scanned by OneDrive to detect nudity and images that may be illegal. Microsoft may ban the entire user account if a single item is flagged by automatic scans.
  4. The data is not encrypted in a way that only the user has access to it.

In closing, most Windows users may want to avoid using the back up feature. It is easy enough to select individual files or entire folders for uploading to OneDrive, if that is desired. Third-party tools like Cryptomator may increase the security of files uploaded, as they get encrypted properly before uploads. (Boxcryptor, another popular service, was acquired by Dropbox recently and started to shut down)

Now You: do you back up files to online services?

Should you back up important Windows folders to OneDrive?
Article Name
Should you back up important Windows folders to OneDrive?
Microsoft OneDrive has a back up feature to back up important Windows folders automatically. Is it a good option?
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  1. Ben said on January 5, 2023 at 9:35 am

    And despite all the comments people still use Google, Microsoft, Apple, file and email services.

    Social message services like
    WhatsApp, Instagram, TikTok and so on

    Use navigation tools like Waze, google and so.

    The Android smart phone and Apple smart phone.

    Use credit cards and electronic payment servies.
    Use loyalty card and bonus card.
    Post all of their live on social media

    Drive cars like Tesla or allow cars like Tesla on the road with all the cameras in it.

    Then still complain about privacy?

  2. Leland said on December 29, 2022 at 8:20 pm

    If you have a program installed that stores it’s configuration files in Documents in the OneDrive folder and you sync it to multiple computers you are asking for problems. Worse if you deselect it to stop syncing that folder will be deleted. OneDrive can work good but never sync Outlook PST files or configuration files of any sort if you use multiple devices. You will save yourself lots of grief.

  3. pHROZEN gHOST said on December 29, 2022 at 3:10 pm

    Anyone who would do this probably keeps a house key under the door mat.

  4. Peter said on December 29, 2022 at 10:20 am

    Uploading your data to Microsoft is just a stupid idea. There are better solutions, more reliable, cheap and without worrying your data will be in the hands of this horror of corporation and without worrying about the size of your backups. Backblaze Unlimited Backup is what all datahoarders prefer to use, secured encrypted backups with no size limitations for only $7/month. People with knowledge of the cloud backup options wouldn’t even think to use onedrive for their backups.

  5. Anonymous said on December 29, 2022 at 12:44 am

    I never would act in such a way. It’s what these large tech corporations want so that you will continue to pay them each month even though they are not protecting your info.

  6. yanta said on December 29, 2022 at 12:42 am

    No, you should not entrust your data to a third party, regardless of how benign the data may be. You have zero control over that third party, and despite claims by them about privacy et al. you can’t tell whether they abide by their own claims.

    Even if it is encrypted. With all the AI/Quantum computing going around these days, encryption is not going to be secure forever.

    As a society we need to stop handing over control of every aspect of our lives to third parties and take responsibility for our own lives, our own data and our own finances.

    Back up to an external drive. Automate with one of the many programs around. I personally use Macrium and run 2 images per day and 2 file and folder backups per day. I have two external drives which I rotate daily. There is always one of those is a “fire resistant” safe.

    Run your own life. Don’t let someone else run it for you.

  7. AAA said on December 28, 2022 at 9:25 pm

    OneDrive will hijack your Pictures, Documents, and other folders. Just download files, but never sync. Trust me, I am speaking from my experience.

  8. Tachy said on December 28, 2022 at 5:47 pm

    “Media is scanned by OneDrive to detect nudity”

    You mean for facial recognition cataloging.

    So annoyed by it being turned on by default everytime you install windows, last time it happened I filled it with porn.

  9. John G. said on December 28, 2022 at 3:12 pm

    I use everyday the Onedrive feature and it is an amazing tool. However I agree 100% @Martin that it’s not perfect because some folders are included by default, so I store mostly everything that I don’t want to share automatically in another “not included folder”. So for this reason I only save in “my documents” those files that I want to save at the cloud. Thanks @Martin for the article! :]

  10. Mothy said on December 28, 2022 at 2:57 pm

    Now You: do you back up files to online services?

    No, I do not trust someone else’s server with my data. Instead I use my own local NAS (Network Attached Storage) device that has two hard drives (in a RAID array) for redundancy. So if one drive were to fail the other still has the data. The NAS is also protected from power loss/surge via a large backup power supply/surge protector. It is also blocked from incoming or outbound Internet access via a hardware firewall router for additional data security (all data stays on my local network). I also backup critical data to external media and store it in a small fire safe that is kept near an exit door so if needed have the option to pick it up quickly and take it out of harms way in the event of a fire.

    1. Anonymous said on December 30, 2022 at 10:06 pm

      What happens if someone steals your NAS?

      1. Mothy said on December 31, 2022 at 6:33 pm

        Good point. Same could apply to the fire safe. I could go a step further and store critical data in a safe deposit box at the bank. But I don’t have anything that critical to justify doing it. So I’m ok with the risk and accept all responsibility for my data in order to keep it off of someone else’s server and under my full control.

  11. Cor Invictus said on December 28, 2022 at 1:04 pm

    OneDrive is the first thing that gets uninstalled with Revo after fresh Windows installation; the second is Edge and then all the rest of MS garbage, including mail, people, weather etc.

  12. chesscanoe said on December 28, 2022 at 12:41 pm

    I have been using OneDrive for quite a while to backup as you describe. Within the last week or so OneDrive icon tells me 2 files were not backed up. Both are *.lnk files that actually work fine but will not sync. I have not worked on the problem yet but your advisory about backing up to OneDrive makes me think twice about doing so.

    1. matthiew said on December 29, 2022 at 8:52 am

      OneDrive excludes .LNK .INI and .EXE files from being synced. .LNK files are excluded because it has a problem syncing them. It will create duplicates every time you log in to another computer, instead of syncing them like any other file.

      We actually had a problem at my work, a school, where the .LNK exclusion wasn’t working and students using the shared computers would end up with dozens of duplicate Teams shortcuts on their Desktop. Microsoft Support couldn’t help us and we had to create a new exclusion as a workaround.

    2. Croatoan said on December 28, 2022 at 9:25 pm

      Only solution that I found is deleting *.ink files and making shorcuts in Start Menu.

      Google Drive don’t have problems with *.ink files.

  13. Rikkie said on December 28, 2022 at 11:00 am

    Also: should I backup my OneDrive?

  14. Robert said on December 28, 2022 at 10:26 am

    Data privacy is another concern as files are not encrypted in any way before sending them to MS cloud.

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