Issues with Desktop and Documents in iCloud

A relative had a scare with her Mac yesterday and eventually I got to see the machine, but we don’t know why this happened, so I’d like to ask fellow MPU members if they have any thoughts.

The machine is a 12" MacBook, nicknamed “Adorable” by some, with a single USB3 port, and has 256GB storage. The owner also has an iPhone and understood that some files were being shared to iCloud and accessible from the iPhone.

While in the middle of a video editing project, a popup appeared (? I will ask whether this was on the phone or the MB) saying the phone should be updated. She declined. After that, all the icons on the MB desktop disappeared.

We checked in a finder window and both the Desktop and the Documents folders on the MB were empty, but the content was in the iCloud Drive folder on the MB.

In system preferences, the iCloud checkbox for Desktop and Documents was disabled.

She had not changed any settings for the iCloud backup, and was not aware of having it turned on in the past. Again I can ask for detail - was she expecting the files to be accessible via iPhone - if so the cloud sync must have been enabled ).

For now, rather than enable this checkbox and risk something unexcpeted happening, we copied and pasted the files from iCloud back to the correct locations on the MB but left the iCloud setting unchecked.

So in summary - either

  • the files were never on iCloud but the MB for some reason shifted them there and deleted them from the MB and disabled the iCloud setting
  • the iCloud Desktop and Documents backup had previously been enabled but had been disabled (either unwittingly by the user or by some software glitch) and this silently and without warning deleted the Desktop and Documents content on the MB).
  • adding the video files or starting the video editing made the MB run out of space and decide to delete all the Desktop and Documents files? But there’s aboout 100GB free on the internal SSD.

Personally while I use iCloud, I don’t enable the Desktop and Documents feature as I want to be in charge of what is and is not copied there and don’t want something other than me deciding when anything should be deleted from my MBP. I don’t know if disabling this backup setting on a device causes the associated files to be deleted from the device without further ado. Obviously, backing up the machine to local storage is the next step.

So there it is, I welcome comments and suggestions.

Does she have that accursed “Optimize Storage” option turned on?


The last macOS update turned it back on. Again!

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@jec0047, @WayneG - she is using Catalina and the iCloud option for Desktop and Documents was off, so wouldn’t that disable “Optimize Storage” as well?

I can’t say for sure, but that is the one option that I can think of that can make files appear and disappear randomly (or, at least, seem to).

Maybe this will help