Deleted Gmail Account? Kiss Your Email Goodbye!

Worried that the government's going to force Google to hand over your email? Fret not. Just delete your account. Do that, and it's gone forever, as some people are finding out.

Wait a minute! Wasn't there all that controversy about how even if you delete your mail, Google still keeps copies of it because of multiple backups? Well, it looks like those backups might not be as foolproof as they sound.

Last month, Google Blogoscoped featured the sad story of someone whose account had disappeared, which ZDNet UK later picked up on. Now in a follow up story from ZDNet, Google denies fault over Mail problems, Google explains that accounts have been deleted in only a few cases and that it is not responsible because these were cases where the users' passwords were given out to others.

For the record, Google does warn that if you delete an account:

Once you close your Gmail account, you can't reactivate it, and you won't be able to retrieve any messages. After a certain period of time, Gmail recycles your username, so we can't guarantee that it will be available if you decide to open another Gmail account.

But one who may (or may not) have been a victim of a hacked account fairly asks:

Even if someone did get my password somehow, shouldn't the original creator of the account be sent some sort of confirmation before actually going ahead with it? Gmail should pick up on that and fix this hole, otherwise it'll be chaos.

Assuming the deletion is spotted fast enough, you'd think the data wouldn't immediately disappear. After all, the Google FAQ on data retention says (bold parts are Google's own):

Some news stories have suggested that Google intends to keep copies of users' email messages even after they've deleted them, or closed their accounts. This is simply not true. Google keeps multiple backup copies of users' emails so that we can recover messages and restore accounts in case of errors or system failure. Even if a message has been deleted or an account is no longer active, messages may remain on our backup systems for some period of time. This is standard practice in the email industry, which Gmail and other major webmail services follow in order to provide a reliable service for users. We will make reasonable efforts to remove deleted information from our systems as quickly as is practical.

So fair to say, if your account was deleted and you discovered this fast enough -- I'd say within few days -- it seems like it could be restored off one of those multiple backup copies specifically retained for this type of situation.

Meanwhile, Google's Gmail fails to hit the spot from Bloomberg looks at how Gmail has far fewer users in the US than Yahoo, AOL and MSN. Of course, Gmail still remains a closed service. Yes, it's much easier for people to get accounts these days -- but I'd say having 7 million users despite the barrier Google throws up is a success, rather than failure. But the figures show a slowing in take-up despite it being easier to get in. Some are said to find the interface offputting.

About the author

Danny Sullivan was the founder and editor of Search Engine Watch from June 1997 until November 2006.

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