Beware! iCloud Backups Deleted after 180 Days

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Did you know that Apple automatically deletes iCloud backups of your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch 6 months after the last backup was made? Even when you continue to pay for iCloud storage space? Neither did we, and while it’s not a common problem, plenty of people have suffered from it.


As I understand it, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 states that electronic communications over 180 days old that have not been opened are considered abandoned. Those do not require a search warrant for a government agency to access them. I wonder if protecting privacy is part of Apple’s rational for deleting backups older than 180 days.


Sounds unacceptable to me if the user, as in this case, is paying Apple for 200 GB of extra iCloud space. If you pay for it, you should be able to use it. At the very least, as @ace writes, they should need to alert you, or better yet, get consent. “Unless you click here to preserve, we will delete that backup one week from today.” Glad I use my Mac for backups. Question is how long that will remain possible. Unfortunately, Catalina’s shift from iTunes to Finder for sync/backup didn’t make the processes any more reliable or seamless. It’s almost as if Apple were gearing up to retire this whole approach altogether.

Also, @ace, why is your backup that huge? Most of the data on my 128 GB iPhone is pictures, music, and video content which doesn’t get backed up (since it’s sync’ed content). IIRC app store stuff isn’t backed up either. So how do you reach 67 GB backup? :open_mouth:


It’s a good question and I don’t really know. Here’s a screenshot of my iPhone Storage screen, compared to the contents of my iCloud backup. The local backup is 67 GB and the iCloud backup is 11 GB. Some apps have a lot of data in them, but it doesn’t look like I’m backing up Overcast or VLC, for instance. (And I have to delete iTunes U for good now.)

What’s even weirder, now that I look more closely, is that Camera+ 2 is empty. It shouldn’t have 6.1 GB of storage used. When I deleted the app and reloaded it, all that space came back… Hmm. That’s disconcerting. I wonder if iOS doesn’t reclaim the space until it’s necessary. This is a 256 GB iPhone 11 Pro, and I was using only 80-some GB of storage before this, so maybe it wasn’t worth iOS’s time to clean up after I cleared out all the burst photos from Camera+ 2.


Adam writes:

In the meantime, if you want to ensure that an iOS device backup sticks around indefinitely (among other differences, though the 180-day limit isn’t mentioned on that page), you’ll need to back it up to your Mac, using either the Finder in macOS 10.15 Catalina or iTunes in previous versions of macOS.

There is still another alternative: The application iMazing allows you – among other things – to make local backups of your iOS devices, even scheduled ones.


iMazing is what I started using when Apple effectively abandoned iOS management via iTunes. Very effective program. I was able to extract and restore to my new iPad an important paid app that had disappeared from the App Store a long time ago. iMazing is well worth the investment.


Hadn’t heard of it, either, and there are too many reasons why this is wrong. Barring things that are illegal or blatant violations of the terms of service, Apple shouldn’t be deleting anything from iCloud. It provides further justification for my desire to avoid using iCloud for anything beyond the short term, such as vacations or business trips. Instead, I backup my family’s two iPhones to my desktop, which is itself backed up daily.

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What does Apple exactly delete after six months? Is it only iPhone/iPad backups or also old files belonging to the Document folder of the Macintosh computers?

The article mentions explicitly iCloud backups. This has nothing to do with iCloud documents on your Mac,.


Many thanks, Simon. I am very relieved.

I suspect that part of this is because Apple doesn’t want iCloud being used for archival backups. Any other kind of backup that’s over 6 months old is so old as to be practically useless. If you are using iCloud backups, you really have to make them more often in order to be useful (or even better, have you phone make them automatically).

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Very interesting!

Another explanation I thought of concerns backups of abandoned devices. My family has been through many devices over the years that are now gone. Back in the day, those backups were on my Mac via iTunes, and took up tons of space that I later had to delete manually when I discovered they were still hanging out there.

With iCloud backups, I don’t recall anything that auto-deletes them when you get a new device, although if you transfer to a new device, it may replace that backup with that of the new device (I don’t recall).

In any case, I’m sure some devices never get formally “replaced”, leaving people with massive backups taking up space that never gets freed and worse, doesn’t have a user-interface to free it anymore (since the device is gone). I have a strong feeling this is part of the explanation.

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I recently got a new iPhone and my old iPhone backup is still out there. Although how would they know to delete it? I suppose when they see I reset my old phone and haven’t used it for 1.5 months or so they could guess it’s no longer used, but that seems dangerous. For example, if I break my new phone today and can’t get a replacement for a few days, I’d restore the old one and use that until I got a replacement.

I have both backups, but I gave my new phone a different name. Don’t know what would happen if I gave it the same name and did a backup, I suspect it would overwrite the old one, but just guessing.

On an iOS device, in Settings > my name > iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups it lists the backups I have and if I tap one it has a Delete Backup button. I haven’t actually tried it (I want my backups!), but assuming it works as expected, there is a way to delete old backups. Now, how many people know about it or use it is another question, but at least it’s available.

In my case not true at all. The content that gets updated much more frequently is synced content, like addresses, photos, mail, apps. OTOH the stuff I’d rely on getting from backup is mainly settings that get updated far less frequently. Having old such data to fall back on rather than no data at all would be far from “useless” to me.

This seems possible, given Apple’s privacy stance, but it seems like Apple could give the customer a warning and an option to open the backup and reset the clock.

Also, what of other files in iCloud? I can easily imagine a file (or an email, if “communications” is particularly significant) being untouched for 180 days.

The 1986 law is dated, to say the least. As an example, how many people keep decades of email in gmail as an archive? At least in principle, that’s not protected from searches.

I think that it is fine that the default Apple policy is to delete inactive iCloud backups of mobile devices after 180 days. The backup is most probably from a device no longer being used or from one where the owner has chosen to back up in as different way.

What is not fine is that Apple is doing this with no notice to the owner, and thus, no chance to indicate the backup should be kept. Notifying the owner 15 or 30 days before it is deleted and listing options for the owner to take to preserve it is the way to go. I’m sure that only a small percentage of folks would not allow it to be deleted, but this gives folks a chance to do something different.

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Just to be clear, I was referring to the case where you sold or destroyed the device. In the old days you could still go to iTunes on your Mac and find the backups and delete them. Now that your phone is untethered to your Mac, that’s not an option.

But frankly, I haven’t done my homework here. Perhaps you could access those backups on

I probably wasn’t clear. On my iPhone (or iPad), it lists the backups for all my iOS devices, including my old iPhone. So if someone has an iOS device, they can delete the backup of any of their other iOS devices, including any they no longer have. Of course if they no longer have any iOS device at all I don’t think there’s any way to delete the backup(s). I did look on, but didn’t see backups anywhere, although I might have missed it.

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On your Mac you can open the iCloud pane in System Preferences, click “Manage Storage”, and see and optionally delete device backups from there.