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is no longer active, messages may remain on our backup systems for some period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.

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