ProtonMail will not delete user accounts for inactivity if the user had paid for a subscription at any point

Apr 27, 2022

Earlier this month, ProtonMail announced a new email domain for its services. The announcement mentioned something important, it said that free user accounts that were inactive for 12 months would be deactivated.

ProtonMail will not delete user accounts for inactivity if the user had paid for a subscription
This news caused a bit of commotion amongst users, and even a couple of comments on my previous article raised concerns about the rule.

Note: ProtonMail's original article has been edited, and the warning about the inactive accounts has been silently removed.

Protonmail and

Why is Proton AG doing this?

To users, it may seem like a pointless move. Maybe ProtonMail is picking up more free users than they expected, which in turn costs server storage. I think it is also possible that more people could be signing up for using the free VPN service that the company provides. We mustn't forget Proton AG makes money from its premium services, so this move could theoretically be purely be executed from a business' perspective.

protonmail inactive account grace period

Proton AG originally planned to deactivate accounts that were inactive for three months, but says it extended the grace period to 1 year, after listening to feedback from users. A three-month limit would have drawn a lot of complaints from users, I think they made the right call by sidestepping that land mine.

Does it matter if a dormant account gets deleted?

If a user hasn't accessed their account for over a year, isn't that an irrelevant account? Does it matter if it gets deleted? Yes, it does. Users may not remember it, but it is possible they may have some receipts, tax invoices, photos, or important documents stored in their email account. These can be crucial data that may not be recovered once the account is deactivated.

ProtonMail announces a way to prevent inactive accounts from being deactivated

ProtonMail has published a support page on its website that explains more about the inactive account policy. All you need to do to protect your account, is to log into it from your web browser or the mobile app, once a year. Or, you could use the VPN app too, since activity across services is also counted.

This is the most important information on the support page,

"If you are or have been a paid Proton subscriber at any point in time, your account will permanently be considered active. Anyone that has ever paid for a Proton plan is exempt from this policy."

So, you don't need to have an active Premium subscription, you just need to have paid for a plan at least once. That is intriguing, you could pay for a month's subscription of ProtonMail Plus, which currently costs $5 or 5€, to preserve the account forever. That's a small price to pay to protect your data. I think that is better than not having a way to secure the account.

If you decide to buy a subscription, login to your account and click the Upgrade button in the top right corner. Select the plan that you want, if you're only interested in a month's subscription of Premium Plus, click on it.

protonmail premium subscription

A pop-up window will open, it has a couple of drop-down menus in the top right. Click on the first menu to change the subscription from Annual to a month. The next menu allows you to pick the currency that you'd like to pay in. Proton AG supports three currencies: Euros €, US Dollars $, and Swiss Francs (CHF).  Choose the one that you find convenient, confirm the total amount that you need to pay, before proceeding to checkout. Just to be safe, you may want to set a reminder in your calendar to prevent the service from being renewed automatically.

Can someone else claim my email address after it was deactivated?

No, Proton has confirmed that a deactivated email address is lost permanently. No one, including you, will be able to use the ID if it has been deleted. This is to ensure that no 2 people have the same email address and alias. This means identity theft won't be an issue.

Protonmail account inactivity policy

When does the new account inactivity rule come into effect?

ProtonMail will start enforcing the rule from April 30, 2022.

protonmail inactive user accounts

Tip: If you haven't already done it, you can claim a free email address until April 30th.

Do you use ProtonMail regularly? If not, are you going to buy a one-time subscription to prevent the account from being deleted?

ProtonMail will not delete user accounts for inactivity if the user had subscribed to a premium plan at least once
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ProtonMail will not delete user accounts for inactivity if the user had subscribed to a premium plan at least once
ProtonMail says that it won't delete an inactive account if the user had paid for a subscription at any point in time.
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  1. piomiq said on April 28, 2022 at 8:11 pm

    ProtonMail is unsafe, because some time ago sold users data to some three letters agency when it asked, so is not recommended for safe privacy.

    1. Clairvaux said on April 28, 2022 at 10:54 pm

      Balderdash. You’re inventing things which did not happen.

      1. Iron Heart said on April 29, 2022 at 7:50 am

        * [Editor: removed, no personal attacks]

  2. Without name said on April 28, 2022 at 2:32 pm

    ProtonMail support team is horrible, principally when situation expose errors. They want to be the owners of truth and reason.

  3. Clairvaux said on April 28, 2022 at 2:16 pm

    “The avaliation of your support team in Trustpilot is horrible.”

    Waaaat ? The avaliation ? Your support team ?

    This is Ghacks. It’s an independent tech news blog. Nothing to do with Proton Mail.

    1. Herman Cost said on April 28, 2022 at 2:37 pm

      Anonymous probably cut and paste a comment he used previously for Trustpilot (which apparently is a consumer review website of some sort). Perhaps he (or she, I suppose) needs a lot of support. But I’ll admit that ‘avaliation’ is a hard one to explain. :-)

    2. Anonymous said on April 28, 2022 at 2:33 pm

      I made a comment referring to ProtonMail.

  4. Anonymous said on April 27, 2022 at 11:38 pm

    ProtonMail Support Team is horrible because is incoerent and send divergent informations. The avaliation of your support team in Trustpilot is horrible. ProtonMail not accept criticism and block persons in social networks.

  5. Kevin said on April 27, 2022 at 11:04 pm

    I’m a health insurance counselor for a non-profit and I use ProtonMail to create email addresses for people who don’t use or even own computers or smartphones, particularly low-income people who live in rural areas. This allows me to help people apply online for health coverage where an email address is required. The advantage of ProtonMail is that it doesn’t require any verification when creating a new account.

    I can pretty much guarantee my clients aren’t going to use their ProtonMail account at all. While we should still be able to use their ProtonMail email address to login to the accounts we created for them, I’m concerned that an account might require a password change or some other type of verification where we would need to get back into the ProtonMail account.

    1. Clairvaux said on April 28, 2022 at 2:40 pm

      That’s a tricky one. I don’t know what country you’re in, and what the conditions are over there. However, you’re right to worry.

      While in most cases, you don’t need access to an email account once an online account has been created (the email address is akin to a user name, it might as well be “abcd”), the corresponding website assumes the email address is working : so it may very well send you an email in the future, and failure to react to it might lead to service being denied.

      This is certainly likely for a health insurance provider.

      I only see two safe options : that your non-profit subscribes to paid email accounts for your “customers”, whatever the provider. An ordinary Proton Mail account is obviously overkill. Paying for the account guarantees it will never be deleted for inactivity. Prices start at 12 $/year (Tutanota, Mailbox, Posteo…).

      Since you’re a non-profit, you might aim for a single, multi-user email paid account, of which you would be the administrator. And get in touch with Proton Mail, asking them if they would grant you a rebate, or even waive fees entirely. Tutanota grants a 50 % rebate to NGOs.

      But that still puts the burden on you to regularly monitor all those email accounts, just in case they receive an email which demands attention, or else. This looks really, really impractical to me.

      That’s why I think what you should do, is provide your “customers” with cheap computers or tablets allowing them to access the Internet. And teach them how to use them.

      That’s the only way you may really empower those low-income people. Otherwise, they’ll remain dependent on you — and it may not even work.

      We can moan all we like about not being able to do anything anymore without an email address, or even worse, without access to the Internet, but that’s a fact of life which won’t go away.

  6. Andy Prough said on April 27, 2022 at 6:58 pm

    That Tutanota price of €1 per month is just for turning your free account into an account with some extra tools, but you are still limited to 1GB of storage. If you want an acceptable level of storage the minimum cost is €4.80 per month or €48 per year, so very little difference from protonmail.

    Personally I think both are good and both are better than gmail or yahoo – use whichever one has the features you prefer.

    1. Clairvaux said on April 28, 2022 at 2:01 pm

      This is wrong on two counts. First of all, 1 GB is a huge storage space for email. Then, if you really want more, the next step is 10 GB, which costs 36 €/year, not 48 €.

      Some people have distorted perceptions because Google is their default base, where they dump everything for free (not only email), and never delete anything.

      They don’t realize that they are being conned by Google, which needs all that data for marketing purposes. They have been persuaded they “need” those many gigabytes. They don’t. Google needs them.

      If you decide to make the privacy switch, and go to Proton Mail, Tutanota or other similar providers, then you need to ditch your Google habits, too.

      It does not make sense to keep old email. Download on your PC whatever reference emails you think you might need in the future. File them and backp them up appropriately, in .eml files, .pdf files, .html files, .docx files, whatever.

      Then, if you must, download all the rest, dump it in an archive folder and forget it for the rest of your life. No need to pay every month for garbage you’ll never read again before you die.

      1. Andy Prough said on April 28, 2022 at 6:49 pm

        Oh I see, I did not understand their pricing. You are correct, first a person would go to the Premium level of email, and then add the 10GB of storage as an add-on, and it would be about 36 €/year for Tutanota. So yes, it would be the cheaper option. I was looking at their 48 €/year “Teams” option as the next step up.

      2. Clairvaux said on April 28, 2022 at 8:03 pm

        As an addition to what I wrote above, a very easy way to build a local backup of one’s mail is to use an email client.

        You can’t do that with Tutanota, however : it’s the only email provider I know which has chosen not to be compatible with the IMAP and POP3 protocols, for encryption reasons.

  7. Herman Cost said on April 27, 2022 at 6:53 pm

    I use Proton Mail’s free email offering as a secondary email address. I can’t even begin to think there is anything at all unreasonable about deactivating a free account that has been inactive for a full year. I had a free Google phone number that I never used and they also deleted it after a similar period. While I abhor Google’s privacy and censorship practices, in fairness to them I thought they were generous to let me keep it that long.

    1. Clairvaux said on April 28, 2022 at 2:11 pm

      “I had a free Google phone number that I never used and they also deleted it after a similar period.”

      Exactly. Now they also delete email accounts and pictures if the account is free and unused for too long.

      I had a Facebook account I never used. After a while, I tried to log into it : it had been deleted “for TOS violations”. In fact, in all likeliness, because it did not generate any advertising revenue, being unused.

      I had a Yahoo email account. Same thing. I had created it for experimenting, and just because I needed it at some point for a reason I forgot. Years after, I could not log into it. Gone.

      I have a free Tresorit account I do use. My computer automatically logs into it, and saves files to it at least once a day. However, if I did not log into it, it would be deleted after 7 months.

      Storage space is not free. Millions of people create free accounts just to test a service, then abandon them. You can’t expect providers to keep them active in perpetuity.

      This is standard practice in the industry, and one should expect it.

  8. Saul said on April 27, 2022 at 6:34 pm

    I’m surprised ProtonMail get any subscribers to be honest; they are too over-priced compared to other email providers. Even if you look at other privacy-focused email providers they are still over-priced. For example:

    € 5.00 per month
    € 48.00 per year

    €1 per month
    € 12.00 per year

  9. Saul said on April 27, 2022 at 2:44 pm

    Not being able to use the account again after it has been deactivated seems dumb.

    I can understand Proton Mail deleting the emails that are stored on an account once an account has been deactivated, so they can reclaim the storage space. I can also understand rejecting incoming emails to deactivated accounts, to cut down on network traffic. However, once the user signs back into the account, they should make it possible for them to re-activate the account. Just permanently disabling the account just seems lazy.

  10. Peter said on April 27, 2022 at 2:08 pm

    A year is not that bad. Tutanota diables access after 6 months of inactivity, only to be retrieved by paying up.

  11. NeonRobot said on April 27, 2022 at 11:13 am

    Better to support excellent Disroot service.

  12. Artem S. Tashkinov said on April 27, 2022 at 11:09 am

    This is f*g horrible.

    I sure hope they will enact this policy only for new (newer) accounts. I’ve had my accounts since ProtonMail launched and reported a lot of bugs as well, so despite me never paying for the service I hope they will spare me. I’ve never abandoned my email accounts before but I’m mortal and I don’t want my emails to vanish in thin air if anything happens to me.

    1. Andy Prough said on April 27, 2022 at 3:43 pm

      >”despite me never paying for the service I hope they will spare me”

      So you think that because you once made a bug report that the rest of the protonmail customers should pay for your storage forever. You’re basically a tax on every single paid account. Not to mention the environmental waste associated with maintaining your unused account. You should do the ethical thing and download your data and delete your account if you don’t ever plan to use it.

      1. Artem S. Tashkinov said on April 27, 2022 at 9:11 pm

        My account weighs in at less than 10MB. Probably less than a single proton web page. Keeping it forever costs the company literally nothing.

        And when you’re so generous as to having paid for your account for a single month I guess you feel all so more entitled right? I’m a pleb, and you’re a generous successful supporter right?

        I don’t request the company to keep 1500GB worth of data like many Google users have. My account is solely for the people who may want to know about my past, i.e. my relatives. Nothing but emails without attachments, no proton drive data at all.

        Didn’t expect so much harsh criticism but whatever.

      2. Clairvaux said on April 28, 2022 at 2:55 pm

        “My account is solely for the people who may want to know about my past, i.e. my relatives.”

        So it really seems you do want Proton Mail to keep your account active in perpetuity, even after your death.

        No email provider, including Proton Mail, ever made that promise to you. That’s just not what the service is meant for.

        If you wanted to use an email account with that purpose, you should :

        – Select a paid account.
        – Pay for it and ensure your relatives pays for it after your death (yeah, it’s obvious, but it seems recalling the blindingly obvious is necessary).
        – Put your password in a sealed envelope and tell your relatives about it.

        Otherwise, there’s this thing called paper, which can be transmitted from generation to generation. For free, I hasten to add.

      3. Anonymous said on April 28, 2022 at 3:19 am

        If the content is important to you, why not save it yourself? If the account is important to you, why you log in once in a while?

        I truly don’t understand.

      4. Andy Prough said on April 27, 2022 at 10:11 pm

        You’ve wasted more time yapping about your precious 10mb of data on this comment thread than it would take you to download it and close the account. If you aren’t going to use it or even bother to log in, then I for one hope they delete it.

      5. Yash said on April 27, 2022 at 5:28 pm

        Tiny bit harsh but true.

    2. Clairvaux said on April 27, 2022 at 12:41 pm

      @Artem S. Tashkinov

      So you expect Proton Mail, Google, Yandex and all the other providers in the world to keep your free accounts going for centuries after your death ? What planet do you live on ?

    3. Anthony P. said on April 27, 2022 at 11:34 am

      As long a you login once a year they will not delete it. If you really dont want your account to be deleted, you can just subscribe for a month and you’re good to go.

  13. Some1 said on April 27, 2022 at 10:42 am

    I don’t understand what is the controversy?! If you don’t use something for a year, you don’t need it, especially if it is a free service.

  14. allen said on April 27, 2022 at 10:08 am

    If you’re only using it once a year–briefly–as you describe (with “important” documents a concern), then it would seem you’re using it as a storage service–not so much an email service. I’m not saying that’s inappropriate, but I would suggest that might be a violation of at least the spirit if not the letter of the rules. Either way: their house, their rules. Transparency is the only requirement here.

    1. Clairvaux said on April 27, 2022 at 12:47 pm

      It’s not a violation of the rules, even in spirit. However, it’s a completely unsafe thing to do. An email provider is not a cloud storage service.

      Some people think : oh, it’s all encrypted and Swiss and free, so I’ll use it to store my secrets there and rarely, if ever, look them up again.

      This is a violation of rule n°1 of computing : if your data is only in one place, it does not exist and could as well vanish tomorrow. Those people forget that despite the encryption and Swissness and stuff, they still need to have a local backup of that data — and if they have only one local backup, they have no backup.

  15. Uwe said on April 27, 2022 at 9:24 am



    ProtonMail Plus: CHF 5/ month
    + 1.00 GB bonus storage: CHF 0/ month

    ProtonVPN Plus: CHF 10/ month

    Subtotal: CHF 15/ month

    Discount BUNDLE -20%: -CHF 3/ month

    Total: CHF 12/ month

    PS: I’m choosing ProtonVPN Plus because of the support of “Secure Core”.

  16. Uwe said on April 27, 2022 at 9:11 am

    I’ve been using ProtonMail, ProtonVPN and ProtonDrive in a paid subscription (with discount 12 Swiss Francs a month) for a couple of years and I’m all satisfied with it.

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