Why Do We Still Let Webmail Services Get Away With Deleting Our Data?

It’s 2009. Storage is so cheap that Email providers like Yahoo are literally giving you as much space as you want. Yet we still have to deal with archaic policies that allow these Email providers to delete everything in our inboxes if, for whatever reason, we forget to login for a few months.

The time limits vary: Yahoo cuts you off at 4 months, Windows Live Hotmail at 60 days, and Gmail after a more lenient 9 months of inactivity (you can see a more comprehensive listing here). Most of them have some kind of grace period where your account enters a deactivated ‘hibernation’ state, but still retains its data. Some of them have these policies in print but rarely actually delete your account. But for others, once you cross the threshold, every Email message, photo, and file attachment is gone for good.

Take Yahoo, for example. Now that the free service includes unlimited storage, the site uses the threat of deleting your account as a way to convince users to upgrade to its premium Yahoo Plus! for $20/year (you can see the wording in the screenshot below). Since when did my data become a bartering tool?

Of course, all of these services are provided for free – none of them are obligated to give us anything. But they are also loaded with ads, and help drive users to each service’s web portal so they can access their integrated inboxes. Webmail is no charity.

Years ago, when space was relatively costly the restrictions made sense. Now that each service uses excessively large or unlimited storage limits to entice users, one would think that they’d be able to support stagnant accounts. Granted, it’s more complicated than a pure storage issue. Every account is likely backed up multiple times, which multiplies both bandwidth, processing, and storage costs. But given a choice I’d much rather sacrifice my Email’s maximum size limit if it meant I could keep my data online indefinitely.

The issue extends beyond just Email. Earlier this year a spammy chainletter proclaiming that Facebook was deleting inactive accounts (it isn’t) exploited fears of data loss. Now that more services are moving to the cloud, our most vital data (like photos and documents) is increasingly at the mercy of these web companies – an unsettling thought given the precedent set by webmail services. For these cloud-based services to thrive users will have to believe they’re good for life, not just until the company involved holds their data ransom for a revenue boost (or worse – deletes it entirely).

(Image from Failblog)