iMessage is Apple’s messaging service that allows iOS and Mac users to send messages, photos, videos and more between devices. iMessage conversations are stored in the Messages app on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Mac.
When you delete an iMessage conversation, it removes the conversation thread and its contents from your Messages app. However, deleting an iMessage conversation does not necessarily mean the messages are gone forever. There are a few key things to understand about what happens when you delete iMessage chats:
Messages are deleted locally
When you delete an iMessage conversation, the messages are immediately removed from your own device’s storage. So if you delete a chat on your iPhone, the conversation will no longer appear in your Messages app on that device. The messages are no longer taking up space on your local storage.
Messages could still be on the other person’s device
Just because you deleted the conversation from your iPhone does not mean the messages are deleted from the other person’s devices. If your friend still has the iMessage chat on their iPhone, the messages will remain on their end even after you delete the conversation from your phone.
Deleted messages could still be in iCloud
If you have iCloud Backup enabled for your Messages app, any iMessage conversations you delete could still continue to exist in your iCloud storage for a period of time. iOS and Mac devices back up your messages to iCloud periodically when connected to WiFi and power. So deleted chats may persist in your iCloud backups until they are overwritten by newer backups.
Apple can retain messages for up to 30 days
Even after you delete an iMessage conversation from all of your devices, Apple may retain copies of those message logs on its servers for up to 30 days. This message retention allows you to restore deleted conversations from a backup during that window of time if needed. After 30 days, Apple claims they disassociate the messages from your account.
Where are iMessage conversations stored?
To better understand what happens when you delete iMessages, it helps to know where your conversations are stored in the first place:
On your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch
All your iMessage conversations and attachments are stored locally on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch devices. This allows you to view, search and manage messages even when you don’t have an internet connection. The size of this local message storage depends on how long you’ve been using iMessage and how many chats/attachments you have.
If you have iCloud Backup enabled for Messages, your iMessage history is periodically backed up and stored in your iCloud account storage. iCloud stores your most recent backup as well as previous backups made over the last few weeks or months depending on your backup frequency. Older backups can get overwritten over time as storage space runs out.
On Apple’s Servers
Whenever you send or receive an iMessage, Apple routes and temporarily stores those messages on their own remote servers to deliver them securely. By default, Apple retains copies of your sent/received messages on their servers for up to 30 days. After that initial retention period, Apple claims to disassociate the messages from your account. However, there is no way to guarantee message logs are deleted.
What happens when you delete a conversation?
Now that we’ve covered where iMessage conversations are kept, here is exactly what happens when you delete a chat from the various locations it is stored:
Deleted from your iPhone/iPad/iPod
When you delete an iMessage conversation using the Messages app on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, the conversation thread immediately disappears from your device’s local message database. This removes the chat from your Messages app and frees up local storage space on that device.
Still on the recipient’s device
Deleting the conversation from your device does not remove it from the recipient’s iPhone, iPad or Mac. The entire chat thread will remain visible on their end. They would have to explicitly delete the conversation to remove it from their Messages app.
Deleted from synced devices
If you delete an iMessage chat on your iPhone and you have other Apple devices like an iPad or Mac that are synced to the same iCloud account, the conversation will also be deleted from the Messages apps on those linked devices. This synchronizes deletions across your Apple ecosystem.
Remains in iCloud backup
When you delete an iMessage conversation, that chat may still continue to exist in your iCloud backups for a period of time. It takes time for the deletion to sync and propagate to all stored backup versions in the cloud. The older the iCloud backup, the longer deleted conversations may persist within it.
Still on Apple’s servers temporarily
Apple will retain deleted iMessage logs on their remote servers for up to 30 days after deletion. This provides a window where you could recover recently deleted conversations from an iCloud backup. After 30 days, Apple claims the retained messages are disassociated from your account.
Attachment files remain
If the iMessage conversation contained attachments like photos, videos or audio messages, deleting the thread does not delete those files from your local storage or iCloud. The media files will persist and must be manually deleted separately.
How long do deleted iMessages stay in iCloud?
As mentioned above, when you delete an iMessage conversation, that conversation could remain stored in your iCloud backups for a variable amount of time:
Until overwritten by a new backup
iCloud backups have limited storage quotas. As you continue to back up your iPhone/iPad, old backup versions get replaced by new backups. When the iCloud backup containing the deleted iMessage conversation gets overwritten, that conversation will be gone for good.
Up to 120 days
iCloud retains multiple backup versions for up to 120 days. So in theory, a deleted iMessage could persist in iCloud for up to 4 months before being permanently overwritten.
Depends on backup frequency
If your device backs up to iCloud daily, deleted messages will likely persist for only a few weeks. If your device backs up less frequently (weekly/monthly), deleted chats hang around longer before that backup version is discarded.
With paid iCloud storage tiers
If you pay for expanded iCloud storage (200GB, 2TB), Apple retains more older backups versus the free 5GB tier. This means deleted iMessages could potentially persist for longer durations in paid iCloud accounts.
How to permanently delete iMessage conversations
If you want to ensure a sensitive iMessage conversation is completely erased and irrecoverable from all locations, here are steps to permanently delete it:
Delete the conversation
First, open the conversation in your Messages app and swipe left to reveal the ‘Delete’ button. Tap Delete to remove the conversation. This eliminates it from your device storage.
Delete from all devices
Check your other Apple devices like iPads and Macs to ensure the conversation has disappeared from those Message apps too. Delete it from any devices where it still exists.
Turn off iCloud Backup
Temporarily disable iCloud backups for your Messages app. This will prevent the deleted conversation from being stored in your cloud backups. Go to Settings > [your name] > iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups.
Delete iCloud backup copies
Log into icloud.com and navigate to Settings > Manage Storage > Backups. Delete any existing backups that may still contain the conversation you want to permanently erase.
Wait 30 days
Allow 30+ days to elapse so any retained message logs at Apple’s servers are guaranteed to be disassociated from your account.
Enable iCloud Backup
You can re-enable iCloud backups for your Messages app once sufficient time has passed to ensure the unwanted conversation is gone for good.
Can you recover a deleted iMessage conversation?
If you accidentally deleted an important iMessage conversation, there are a couple ways you may be able to recover it:
From a local backup
If you previously backed up your iPhone locally through iTunes on your computer, you may be able to restore the lost conversation from that backup file.
From iCloud Backup
If you have Messages backups stored in iCloud, you can restore the deleted conversation as long as that backup version still exists in the cloud and has not been overwritten.
From the recipient’s device
If the conversation still exists on the other person’s iPhone or iPad, they could send you the conversation history again or take screenshots to share portions of the chat.
From Apple Support
For up to 30 days, you may be able to contact Apple Support to have them recover deleted iMessage conversations from their retained server logs. But there is no guarantee.
From your Mac
Check the Messages app on any connected Mac computers. If you still have the conversation on your Mac, you can copy/paste messages and details back to your iPhone manually.
Can deleted iMessages be viewed by anyone?
What happens to your deleted iMessages? Can anyone else view them after deletion?
Visible on recipient’s device
The conversation will remain visible on the recipient’s iPhone/iPad even after you delete it from your device. So the messages are still accessible to the recipients.
Accessible if backed up
Deleted iMessages can continue to exist indefinitey in any backups stored locally on your computer or in iCloud. Anyone who gains access to those backup files could potentially view deleted conversations within them.
Apple has copies for 30 days
Apple retains deleted iMessage logs for 30 days, during which an Apple engineer could theoretically access the deleted conversation. However, Apple claims strict access controls.
iPhone backup viewers
There are some third-party apps and tools that let you view the contents of an iPhone backup file (on your computer or iCloud). They could reveal deleted conversations in those backups.
Law enforcement with a court subpoena could compel Apple to provide access iMessage logs older than 30 days in extreme cases. Apple challenges these requests when possible.
Sophisticated hackers may be able to illicitly access and view your deleted iMessages by breaching Apple’s networks, iCloud or finding security vulnerabilities in iOS. But this is very rare.
In summary, here’s what happens when you delete an iMessage conversation:
– It removes the conversation from your device’s local Messages storage
– The chat will still exist on the recipient’s devices
– It will continue to reside in iCloud backups temporarily
– Apple retains copies for up to 30 days after deletion
– Associated media attachments are not deleted
To guarantee total removal, you need to delete the conversation everywhere and disable iCloud backup. With effort, deleted iMessages could potentially be recovered or accessed by others in some cases. But overall, deleting a conversation provides reasonable assurance that it is gone for good after about a month.