A Poignant Comment on Deleting Email

For the past two months I’ve been trying to figure out what to say about something Peter Fleischer, Google’s Global Privacy Counsel, wrote about his personal email retention and deletion policies. After talking about whether people should worry about “covering their tracks” from government snooping, he writes (emphasis added):

In the meantime, as users, we all have to decide if we want to keep thousands of old emails in our inboxes in the cloud.  It’s free and convenient to keep them.  Statistics published by some companies seem to confirm that the risks of governments seeking access to our data are extremely remote for “normal people”.  But the laws, like ECPA, that are meant to protect the privacy of our old emails are obsolete and full of holes.  The choice is yours:  keep or delete.  I’m a pragmatist, and I’m not paranoid, but personally, I’ve gotten in the habit of deleting almost all my daily emails, except for those that I’d want to keep for the future.  Like the rule at my tennis club:  sweep the clay after you play.

His comments struck me as being incredibly poignant when I first read them, and remain so today. I’ve stopped archiving email. I delete email (as best I can, given cloud data retention policies and all…) on a regular basis. Over the Christmas break I removed an aggregate of about 6 GB of mail that had just…accrued…in my various accounts over the past decade. In short, his post motivated me enough to spend the better part of 3 or 4 days sifting and sorting through my digital life. Ultimately I removed an awful lot of what was there.

At some point I hope to spend more time writing about, and thinking through, some of Peter’s points. At the moment, however, I’d just recommend you think about what it means when Google’s Global Privacy Counsel – the guy who is best able to go to the mat to protect the privacy of his own inbox – chooses to routinely delete his email from the cloud. If he takes that precaution, and he has the influence that he does, shouldn’t you at least consider following his lead?

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