Possible to recover emails when deleted from iCloud server?

It appears I have ‘lost’ a significant amount of iCloud emails which were in my Archive folder in Apple Mail.

I have been through the hoops with first level Apple Support and then put through to a Senior Advisor who offered to ‘have requested recovery of all archived and deleted email’ which ‘may take some time’.

I’m a little sceptical that this is possible. Is this a thing? Do they backup the email server mailboxes? Has anyone else ever managed to recover emails when they are no longer available on iCloud.com ?

Slightly worried. :thinking: :worried:

Thank you.


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I ran into this some time ago, and it is really scary.

On the one hand it’s nice that in case of emergency Apple might be able to help you recover some of your email.

On the other hand: If I delete something I need it to stay deleted!

I move all email that is older than 6 months out of the cloud/imap systems at the beginning of every month and keep it in a local mailbox on my mac. (+ encrypt it en back it up to Synology C2)
It sometimes is a bit fiddly when you’re trying to find an older email, but I just open up screens on my iPad/iPhone and jump to the mac to do a quick search.

The fact that Apple would be able to retrieve my email from a backup after I clearly removed it is problematic

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Cold storage of backups - saved offline in safe location (often in vaults in a mountainside) is not uncommon as a safety measure for corporations. If they have disks or tapes stored offline and off-site it could easily take a while to access it, especially if there are a lot of customers who experienced your issue.

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I’m going to weigh in again on a subject that I get a lot of pushback on, the folly of using email as a long term information repository. Based on past experience I find it a risky proposition. My preference is to export anything I want to a PDF and save it into my filing system. That is then synced and backed up multiple places. Each individual email is restorable from the backups. They are always accessible on my Mac even with no internet connection.

Before we retired my wife was the email and server administrator for our company’s marketing dept. she spent way too much time helping people get emails back after their message store got corrupted. Usually caused by it getting way too big, sometimes 50gb or more.

I keep emails online while I’m still working on the event/project that they deal with. I usually move them to a project specific folder. When it’s over, I decide which ones I should keep, save them, and trash the rest. Often enough the final email in a thread will have all the history in it with little need for the prior messages.

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At the very least I would expect Apple, or any email provider, to be able to restore everything in a disaster recovery situation. i.e. return everything to the point of failure. Most businesses keep messages much longer.

At my last job I asked management how long they wanted me to maintain an archive of email messages. With the ability to de-duplicate attachments, etc. disk storage isn’t usually a factor. We chose to keep all internal and external email and attachments for seven years.

Since mail was delivered to both the user and the archive even messages that were immediately deleted from the user account remained in the archive.

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On a related note, this article from two weeks ago might be of use to some people.

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I would agree for data I intentionally left in the environment.
Not data I moved out of it. It would be my decision to delete it.

Certainly I would not expect any archive in backup environments to be immediately purged of my data, but I would expect a process in place to have that done at least within 6-12 months. In those 12 months though I would also expect them to have a process in place to have that data inaccessible to anyone.

There is probably no way to know for sure, but I suspect your deleted emails would remain in Apple’s backups for many months if not years.

And regardless of what Apple does, copies of everything probably still exist in the account, and/or backups, of the sender or recipient of all of your email.

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Just an update to this topic which I think has ended up with a happy ending.

Apple Support were unable to help me. What I think had somehow happened is that I had ‘tested’ a couple of Email Apps on iOS and I think one of them was the culprit for deleting the contents (older than July’20) of my archive folder in iCloud.

One of the problems was that it was a while until I had noticed that the older emails had gone.

Now with some quick thinking I was able to delve into the folders on a MacMini server on my network that had not synced with the iCloud email server - the Mail app was not running. I was able to retrieve the mbox files from this Mac and re-import them into Mail after it had synced and deleted the emails on this Mac.

This has made me very wary though. Do people back up their email databases? How do you do it?

Is copying the contents of the user/Library/Mail/V8 folder the only safe way of backing up email locally? I guess my TimeMachine / Backblaze backups will do this but I’d really like a second local backup just in case as the the thought of losing 10 years of emails was a little scary!

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Why? Space constraints on your IMAP? I just leave everything on the server in archive folders.

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Well, that has to do with the fact that in the US apparently a 1986 law has a loophole that allows US law enforcement to read email of 180 days and older without a warrant.

so, 179 days is my max

Oh, OK. One more reason to stick to EU services and, in case of email, self-host.

I switched my domains to Protonmail years ago.
The old habits stick though, I like to have control of my data.