Email is not a good database

How far back does your email archive go? Years, decades? What kind of discussions, opinions and sensitive files would a search reveal?

What damage could be done if someone got into your email? Your thoughts on people your know? Maybe crucial negotiation documents? Things that probably shouldn’t be public?

Email is a terrible way to store information. It is not supposed to be a database – it’s a method of communication. It’s a single place to find out everything you have ever said to anyone.

Not only does email act like a repository of your own communications, documents and discussions, every single from, to, cc and bcc has a copy. You might delete something from your own inbox but it’s probably nicely replicated many times around the world.

At Server Density, we had a policy of automatically deleting all email after 1 year. We had documentation retention policies for types of files which needed to be kept and for how long e.g. financial records for 7 years. But they were all retained in systems designed for the purpose, not email.

Anything of any importance should be saved somewhere else. Dedicated cloud file storage allows you to control access, share links with expiry dates and manage versions. You can encrypt sensitive files and audit access logs.

Knowing your legal obligations to retain specific data types and deleting everything else is good practice. Combine this with sending expiring links to files in cloud storage rather than attachments and you mitigate the risk of other people’s poor security hygiene too.

Email is insecure. It’s not a good database, so shouldn’t be treated like one.