Does an email really get deleted? Whether you pull an email off of a server
or log on to a service provider, don’t they backup their servers daily or
hourly and wouldn’t that email still exist on the backup servers forever?
In this excerpt from
Answercast #85, I look at the possibilities that server companies are making
backups that store and keep old emails.
Online email permanently deleted
Well, you raise a very, very interesting point.
The short answer to your question is, “You’re absolutely right!” The longer answer to your question is, “We absolutely don’t know.”
Most email service providers (and this runs the gamut from Gmail to Hotmail, to your ISP to whatever email service you happen to be using) don’t publicize this kind of information:
They don’t tell you how often they do backups.
They don’t tell you what’s included in those backups.
They don’t tell you how long those backups are kept;
And they don’t tell you how often they expunge old backups from their system.
So, we don’t know. We quite literally do not know for any given email service provider what the answer is – and whether it’s the same answer for a different provider.
Assume the emails are kept
In order to be safe – if it matters at all? Yes. You have to assume that the mail servers are being backed up constantly. You have to assume that the backups are being kept forever.
Now, given that the backups might exist. Does that mean that you can arbitrarily ask the ISP to go retrieve something you deleted a few months ago?
Most ISPs will explicitly tell you, “No, there’s no way that they will use their backups, wherever they might be, to restore something that you deleted.”
The backups they keep are for their own purposes. If they have a problem with their email hardware, they have the ability to restore from a backup – and they aren’t the ones who lost your email. If you lose it, that’s on you… which is why I strongly and frequently recommend backing up your email one way or another.
Possible legal access
But the backups still exist at the ISP; that’s an assumption you have to make.
The reason that assumption is important is not because it’s useful to you in any way – but rather it might be useful to law enforcement or court cases.
In other words, if you were to get sued or if you were to be accused of some illegal activity, it is possible that your email service provider might be compelled to retrieve email, that you’ve deleted from your online service, from their backups.
The only way that they’re going to do that, of course, is:
If they have those backups (and we’re going to assume that they do.)
And if it is in response to some kind of legal authority that is going to force them (or like I said, compel them) to retrieve that information because it’s not an inexpensive request.
So it’s yes and no
That’s the way I would look at it from a practical point of view.
You and I kind-of, sort-of need to assume that nothing is backed up and take responsibility for backing up our own email.
But, if you’re concerned that what is in your email could be discovered at some point as part of some legal proceeding, then you need to assume the very opposite; you need to assume the backups are there; they are there forever and opposing counsel could in fact request it.
(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)
Next from Answercast 85 – Is CCleaner deleting System Restore points?