I'm getting a bad feeling about Gmail. I've used it for years and recently I deleted all of my private conversations from all possible devices and folders. However, when I go to the search box of Gmail and look up specific keywords in previous mails, they pop up. I'm not actually able to open them, but I can read the first lines everywhere. Am I overlooking something or is it really NOT possible to permanently delete mails? Is Google forced by law to use soft delete? What do others do?

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  • 1
    This might be a better question for Gmail support. – schroeder Apr 1 '16 at 14:52
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    I am only speculating and going to say they don't search against emails. But instead they search against a DB meant for search indexing to improve speed/performance. As a result how you interact with your emails might not directly interact with this database. This method is a widely used practice especially when needing to search against a massive amount of data. If it is done like this, how it is done, and how it is protected only Gmail/Google could answer. – Brad Metcalf Apr 1 '16 at 17:01
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    Did you try deleting from the web interface? – CodesInChaos Apr 1 '16 at 20:12
  • How long has it been since these emails were deleted? I suspect that it may just take some time for the "search database" to update (as Brad Metcalf) suggests. – MrWhite Apr 1 '16 at 22:18

Deleting from any folder except Spam or Trash moves the message to Trash, which can still be searched (similar to the Trash or Recycle Bin for files on a desktop OS). Deleting from one of those two folders deletes it permanently, and such messages will no longer show in search results. (I just tested this to double-check).

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    "and such messages will no longer show in search results" - deleted messages don't normally appear in the search results anyway (Trash and Spam "folders" are excluded). You would need to explicitly include the search operator in:anywhere to return deleted emails in search. – MrWhite Apr 1 '16 at 22:15

It seems like Google had a waiting queue on mails to get deleted. They no longer show up in results now (after about two days). I didn't touch anything. It just happened.

  • The search index is almost certainly different than the data storage for the messages themselves. I would expect some lag between the time the messages are truly deleted forever and they get removed from the search index, which is what gives your search results. – ale Apr 2 '16 at 20:14

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