Who has your mail?

Who – or rather, which company – is holding all your email?

Photo by Louis Abate

If you couldn’t login tomorrow, do you have a copy of your email? Many webmail services, like Gmail, make it easy to download a copy of your mail using POP or IMAP but if you use their web client, it’s an extra step you have to think about and do on a regular basis. It’s not something that most people can do easily. Especially if they share a computer with others.

While there’s a good chance, as a reader of this blog, that you are a do-it-yourself kind of technical person and use Thunderbird or Evolution to read your mail on your own computer, most of us don’t. Most of us trust our webmail to be there when we need it. We are trusting a single company to hold and take care of years worth of personal correspondence.

We need a way to backup our data, data like our email, to a trusted place.

P.S. I use Thunderbird to backup all my mail from my email web service providers to my computer. It’s not what it was designed for but it works for now.

8 Replies to “Who has your mail?”

  1. I’d run my own mail server, but it’s just not practical. I don’t want extra computers around the house- even a tiny plug server seems a big eccentric to me. Also, it may not always be as reliable as a big corporation’s servers, although I’m willing to sacrifice some network fidelity.

    I think it’d be neat if the email software we use online could be AGPL and encrypted to ensure only we have access to our information. Even then, it’s hard to trust someone else’s server. I guess backup is the most practical solution at the moment.

    Somebody please prove me wrong.

  2. At the moment, I keep all my mail on my own IMAP server, so that I can access it from both my laptop and my phone. However, I remain concerned about leaving that mail in an unencrypted location. Any server I leave in an unattended location can’t easily have its drive encrypted, and even if it did (such as via Debian’s support for entering encryption passphrases via SSH) that wouldn’t make it secure. On the other hand, I don’t want to store all my mail locally on my laptop, because then I can’t access it from my phone…

  3. I have a server which runs mpop once an hour to scrape new emails from my Gmail account. It also runs a script once a day to download my contacts. These files are then regularly backed up along with all the other important files on my server.

  4. So if all your email was gone tomorrow, would that matter? Would it be so bad that it’s worth thinking about having backups?

    Not for me. It’d be a bit inconvenient, sure. But not worth thinking about backups.

  5. cron+offlineimap solves this happily for mail.

    For calendaring, I use a (private) ICS download link once a day.

    It’s enough for emergencies.

  6. It’s definitely something I like about other sites I think you often gain color on a subject through thought-provoking comments (even from trolls) but I definitely think Wikipedia’s neutrality is important as long as they still provide the relevant opinions but do so in a neutral way. I was being kind of tongue-in-cheek but definitely worth considering.

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