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When I delete an email from my Gmail inbox, is it also deleted and removed from the servers at Google?

This is to say that I deleted them it knowing that I wanted to and was sure and that I don't also have a copy of it in another label/folder in my account.

What happens to the delete emails?

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4 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

There are several levels of "delete" and you'd need to ask Google how far they went when you pressed the "delete" button.

  1. The file (for that's what a mail message actually is) is moved from your inbox to a "trash" folder in your account. This removes it from your inbox but you can still recover it quite easily.
  2. The file is completely removed from your account. In this case it might still exist somewhere on the Gmail servers but you'd have to contact Google for it to be restored. I don't know whether this is the case, but it's a reasonable assumption.
  3. The file is removed from the Gmail servers. In this case it might have been backed up before deletion.
  4. The file is removed from all backups. In this case the mail has, to all intents and purposes gone.

This doesn't cover the use of forensic data recovery to analyse the hard drive of the server to recover a deleted file - but with the volume of data passing through Gmail I'd assume that any deleted file would get overwritten quite quickly.

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And then there is the copy that the person on the other end of the email exchange has. –  William Jackson Apr 12 '11 at 19:34
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Realistically, the only people who know for sure are the people who run GMail's servers. Assuming that the GMail software honored your request to delete the message and deleted it from the hard drive of the server immediately, there would still be the question of backups.

I would be astounded if GMail actually did this, though. I'm not saying that Google is keeping all your deleted e-mail and reading it late at night all byitself, but it would seem much more likely that ALL mail arriving at GMail is kept at least for some period of time even after the user requests that it be deleted. The period in question may be hours or it may be years, only Google can say for sure.

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ya thats what, why they take backup's? –  Ant's Apr 9 '11 at 11:05
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@Anto Any reputable company running servers is going to make backups. If they didn't, and then suffered a server failure, you would lose ALL of your GMail since there would be no backup to restore from. –  NReilingh Apr 9 '11 at 14:30
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Gmail has a "Trash" folder where your deleted mail will sit for 30 days. After that, it's purged. The chances that they'll restore your mail from backup for a free service... are not good.

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Terms of service are quite clear:

After you delete information from our services, we may not immediately delete residual copies from our active servers and may not remove information from our backup systems.

So, Google may be storing your personal data forever and without your consent. I suppose they’d say that

  1. If you want something deleted, it's just... suspicious;
  2. You just had to read the terms of service.
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