My smartphone has wiped my microSD card again: Is it a conspiracy?

And who's listening to those MP3s instead of me?

Something for the Weekend Billy Idol has run off with Madonna. That's the third time this year and it's getting annoying.

It's not just these two stars to have absconded: all of the music that was on the microSD card in Mme D's smartphone has vanished. Not just that cheesy 1980s playlist but all the modern stuff too – absolutely everything has been whipped away, yet again, by forces unknown.

The first occasion this happened, Mme D was looking at her handset with a furrowed brow and announced: "Bowie's gone."

"Yes, yes, I know," I wailed, "and the world's gone to pot ever since. Brexit, Trump, COVID, Ukraine, Leicester City winning the Premier League that time…"

"No, I mean my Bowie 'best-of' playlist isn't on my phone any more. The Music Player app thinks it is, but it isn't."

On further inspection, we confirmed that the reason the app couldn't find the music files is because they were nowhere to be found. Nor was the microSD card, according to the File Manager. Switch off, pop out the card, there it is in my hand. Pop it back in, switch back on, no microSD card found. Bugger.

We tested it in our spare handset – an identical Huawei model (I picked up a pair on the cheap a few years ago) – but without luck. The microSD card was not recognized there either. I tried it in my handset: rien.

With a heavy heart, I traipsed up to the office and popped the card into my PC. It had no problem identifying it and mounted it immediately. Hurrah! A lovely blank new storage drive!

Yes, blank. Casual attempts to find deleted data on the card led nowhere. Nor did the card appear to have been reformatted any time recently. It's as if someone carefully lifted the music files – and all the photos, by the way – and covered their tracks by wiping the deleted sectors before making off with their ill-gotten gains.

Assuming that we'd bought a duff microSD card, we purchased a better one. Two months later, it failed in exactly the same manner. So then we bought a really good one – better than the one in my own, ahem, "flagship" Huawei handset and equal to those I use professionally with my cameras and laptop.

And now somebody has stolen David Bowie yet again.

You can't stop the music, they say. Well, apparently you can.

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This is getting out of hand. Bowie's disappearance in January 2016 was traumatic enough for sensitive types like me without having to suffer his repeated removal by malicious persons unknown. Only last week, DB was doing his stuff – performing astonishing songs, challenging our perceptions of reality and playing saxophone badly – and today, nothing whatsoever remains of him on Mme D's frankly bloody expensive microSD card.

Naively, I Duck-Duck-Goed "Android smartphone keeps deleting SD Card" to find out if it's a recognized problem. Judging by the results, it's so commonplace that about a billion web pages have been authored to help people troubleshoot the issue.

All billion of them, incidentally, contain that evergreen but useless gem of profound idiocy expounded by duffheads since the dawn of IT: If you cannot read the data on your drive, back it up immediately.

In other words, if someone has stolen your car, park it somewhere else.

Beyond this, entire conspiracy theories have arisen around the phenomenon of microSD failure in smartphones. It's best to ignore the brand-name haters, though. According to who you read, Samsung, SanDisk, Lexar, PNY, Kingston, and indeed everybody in any way involved in microSD card manufacture are "shit". This might be a conveniently monosyllabic explanation for the problem of repeated microSD card failure in mobile phones but it is not helpful, nor is it true. It is simply the cry of economically impotent consumers like me who can't find the real reason, feel a bit ripped off but don't know who by, so lash out at whatever logo is on the packaging.

Instead, could the problem lie in the handset hardware? Is there an issue with the microSD slots? Is it Samsung, Huawei, HTC, and the gang who are "shit"?

Well, oddly enough, various Android handset manufacturers have themselves been subtly hinting at the previous theory: that microSD Cards are essentially bad things and cannot be trusted to do the job. Not a big announcement or anything, just a passing comment here and there, a passing mention during a press briefing, that sort of thing.

I remember there was a minor fuss several years ago when Xiaomi's international VP told Engadget that microSD cards were "incredibly prone to failure" and claimed that a lot of supposedly brand-name cards were fakes. He predicted that "SD cards will disappear."

Conspiracy mode ON: a handset manufacturer that removes the microSD slot in future models while offering more built-in memory and mobile cloud backup services to compensate – at extra cost, of course – will boost their profits. This works for Apple, right?

To be fair, Apple is consistent on such things. It knows that if a third-party component doesn't work very well in an Apple-branded product, consumers do not blame the third party, they curse Apple. This is what killed off Flash, remember? Forget its Swiss-cheese security and terrible interface, the terminal problem with Flash was that it ran like a slug on mobile devices. Nobody would say: "Gosh, Flash Player isn't very good, is it?" They'd say: "My iPhone is crap." So Apple shut it out.

The thing is, microSD cards do not run like a slug; not good ones, at least. I don't expect them to last forever, any more than I would any removable drive, spinning or solid-state, to survive indefinitely. Worse, I have seriously mistreated SD cards in my time. I have regularly pulled them out of their slot without dismounting and yanked them out of cameras that are still switched on. I have accidentally dropped them in the bin, trodden on them, kicked them across the floor, and bent them by sitting down while they're in my back pocket. But they still keep working afterwards, often for several years.

So why a microSD buried quietly, safely, and unabused in the guts of a smartphone should spontaneously blank itself after a month or two is tricky to explain away.

Since nobody will own up to what's actually going on with microSD card failure in smartphones – could it be the design of microSD itself? – I would like to propose my own conspiracy theory.

I believe the media files on Mme D's smartphone microSD are being stolen away by communist secret service personnel in North Korea.

Just like corrupt Soviet party officials would smuggle Levi's jeans across the iron curtain throughout the 1970s, the aforementioned Democratic People's Republic is surreptitiously stealing slamming hits from the rock and pop charts of contemporary western culture from our mobile handsets – right under our very ears.

I just hope they are not too disappointed. You can imagine the poor sod responsible for monitoring Mme D's dossier, trying to explain to his Great Leader why, for the third time in a row, all he has managed to rob is the same best-of playlist of David Bowie, and some old albums by The Crash and The Police.

My theory is as good as any. Perhaps the music files are being squirreled away space by space aliens – or, indeed, squirrels. But I am sick of having to replace the files and replace the cards over and over again, every time the data gets lost in space.

Should Mme D just replace her phone for one with more built-in, and massively overpriced, memory?

Ah, now that would be bending to a conspiracy theory too far. How gullible do you think I am?

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He dismisses the idea that Mme D has merely been unlucky. He prefers the conspiracy theories: unlucky, no, but paranoid, yes. More SFTW here. Other stuff at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

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