Close X

Free advice about your free email service (HINT: ever hear of free insurance?)

The following applies specifically to free email services (Gmail, Yahoo**, Outlook**, Google Apps Free Version). If you pay for email or you use email through work, this almost certainly does not apply.

Earlier this week, I had a client learn a very tough lesson about deleting important emails. In an effort to “clean out” some old emails, this individual managed to Trash, then Delete Permanently, about 2 years worth of “mission critical” emails.

After doing this, the client realized the mistake and requested that those emails get recovered. Long story short, they ARE NOT recoverable.


1. Free means caveat emptor x 10000 squared. The free version of Google Apps is NOT SUPPORTED by Google, and by using it you are agreeing to all terms of their privacy and usage policy. You should expect nothing more from Google’s free service than you would expect from anything for which you did not pay. If you are the type to complain about the streaks on your windshield after dropping 50 cents on a homeless stoplight squeegee job, then you’ll have trouble with this concept. Probably best if you just stop reading now. I can’t help you.

Are they gone? OK good. Moving on. This doesn’t mean we expect Google/Gmail to “break” or work any differently than you’ve become accustomed to. It just means if something bad does happen (drunk delete, cat stepped on delete forever button, whatever), Google will make no effort whatsoever to restore those emails. This is not new information. You probably think you “know” this. I hope you do. To clarify, I’m not talking about hackers or system outages. I’m talking about you clicking on the wrong button, typing in tongues, or just being plain old stupid you and wiping out some emails after a fight with your third x-husband. Free gmail protects against the former. Payment is required for protection against the latter.

2. For all intents and purposes, “Delete Forever” means exactly that. If you ever see that button, TREAT IT LIKE THE TRIGGER OF A LOADED WEAPON. Once clicked, there is simply no taking it back.

Delete Forever

3. Gun-shot events and accidental email delete events both end up in the same place – litigation. If you shoot a home intruder, you may have been in the right – but you’ll need a few lawyers to help others see it that way. Same goes for your free email. Maybe it really was an accident. Maybe you were holding a baby and he puked on the mouse while you were viewing your trash. I get it. My dog just backspaced over the previous paragraph with an errant paw – it happens. Still, if you are using any type of free email service, you’d better be prepared to “tell it to the judge.”

My personal advice is simply to never delete anything. Of course, at some point, this means you’ll have to pay for some kind of storage. Sorry, no workarounds for that one. If your only copies of every photo of all of your 15 grandchildren are carefully tucked away in your inbox, don’t pick NOW to get altruistic about paying $5/$10/$100/month for something you don’t completely understand. Do you understand how the brakes in your car work? Me neither, but I drive places and like living so it’s worth it to me to pay a greasy expert to keep my brakes, uh, braking. What’s more, should those breaks fail and I manage to survive, I’ve got a greasy expert to sue. Win-Win!

Most of this really does apply to any free service. Free isn’t bad. It’s quite wonderful. But it’s also not really free – at least no more free than a free puppy.

End of day, it’s all about expectations. You can totally expect a free email service to work great while safely, securely holding onto your emails, photos, or anything else you like. 99.mostofthetime% this is more than fine. And if you know what you are doing, even a little bit, you can pretty easily keep your stuff safe and pay next to nothing (fix your own damned brakes).

If you don’t know what you are doing, but think you know enough to stubbornly do it your own way, fine. Just tattoo this on your brain: Delete Forever means You are about to erase this from the face of the earth. You are shredding, then burning, then dropping in sulfuric acid. You are killing everything this data ever was and everything it ever will be. So if you have any inkling that you may even sort of regret this decision 30 years from now THEN DON’T F-ING CLICK HERE. I warned you, kittens could be killed. . . .

*FWIW I really feel bad for this particular client. He’s actually plenty tech-savvy and frankly made a mistake while rushing through something. I can’t say I would have done the same, but I know I’ve done much dumber in the heat of battle. Even though I did know about Google’s no-recover policy, I was surprised to find out that no middle ground exists. That’s why I wanted to share this. I do have clients I would expect to do something like this – but this guy is not one of them. So be careful about assuming you are smarter than this and this could never happen to you. Anybody who is one-click away from data destruction could make this same mistake no matter how smart, sober, or savvy. Just sayin.

**While doing some fact checking, I noticed that Outlook and Yahoo have “virtually unlimited” storage space. In all honesty I’m not sure exactly what this means, but it’s worth a mention since the main reason most people bother to start deleting emails is storage limits. The main point still applies though. If your stuff is really important, mission critical, or concerning matters of national security (looking at you General P), then “FREE” is going to cost you sooner rather than later.