The countdown clock for the major purge of inactive Google accounts is ticking. Act quickly to save your old Gmail and Photos content. Here’s what you need to know and do.
11/28 updates below. This article originally appeared on November 26.
With just a few days to go until the December 1 deadline, when Google will begin enforcing an updated inactive account policy, users are understandably concerned about what will happen to their content, such as Gmail messages, photos, and documents.
The good news is that the accounts of the vast majority of Gmail and Photos users will remain safe from the coming content removals. That’s because most of the 1.8 billion Gmail users and 2 billion Google Photos users have active accounts.
According to Google’s policy, they have had access to their Google accounts for the past two years. While there are no statistics available to reveal how many inactive Google accounts there are, if the number is just 1%, this would still mean 18 million Gmail users and 20 million Google Photos users in the crosshairs. That’s a lot of messages and photos about to go to the big trash bin in the sky.
Why does Google delete Gmail and photo content?
The official reason is to improve safety. As Ruth Kricheli, vice president of product management at Google, said in a May 2023 update, “If an account has not been used for an extended period of time, it is more likely to be compromised.” This may sound a bit complicated, but it makes sense because older accounts are less likely to have things like two-factor authentication active. Google itself says it has internal data indicating that these inactive accounts are actually “10x less likely than active accounts” to use 2FA. I recommend running the Google Account Security Checkup when logging into an inactive account to ensure it is properly protected. A compromised Google account is like the keys to the online kingdom for a threat actor, although one could argue that the value of an abandoned account is much less than that of an active account. I suspect there are additional reasons behind the change in inactive account policy, not the least of which is the cost of storing all that apparently unwanted data.
11/28 Update: While data from inactive Google accounts, including Google Photos and Gmail content, will likely be deleted starting December 1, other data held by Google appears to have already been lost, according to some users. Google Drive users have reported how their data has disappeared as their accounts appear to have been reset to their May 2023 status. official Google Drive support forumusers have said that their Drive folder on the desktop was missing six months’ worth of files and was showing a structure as of May.
“My Google Drive files suddenly disappeared,” said one user, “The Drive literally returned to state in May 2023. Data from May to today disappeared and the folder structure returned to its status in May.” Another reported: “We are having the exact same problems, we have a director who came to me and after I looked it looks like the last time a file was changed was late April early May. This user mainly works from the G drive and it appears that Google has not uploaded his files to the cloud, but we as IT administrators have no way of knowing this.
I’ve reached out to Google for an update on what’s happening, but a statement was not available at time of publication. However, a user named Saitej, who was marked as a Google employee and member of the Google Drive team, posted a response in the support forum thread. “We are investigating reports of an issue affecting a limited subset of Drive for desktop users,” Saitej said, “and will follow up with more updates.” The same user advised against unlinking the affected account within Google Drive for desktop or deleting the app data folder.
Another user posted on the support forum that the problem appeared to be due to the desktop Google Drive client not uploading data to the cloud at all and then the local profile being reset for an as yet unknown reason. They said this “means your local, cached, unuploaded files are now hidden in a backup folder.” Although the user posted a solution that they used to restore missing data for their partner, I would stick with the advice not to touch anything until Google support comes back with an official statement.
How to stop Google from deleting your Gmail and photo content
So, what should you do to ensure that your precious memories are saved from this purge? First, if your Google Account is associated with an educational or business institution, this falls outside the scope of the inactive account policy and your content and data are safe. If your account contains YouTube content, it is also safe. However, everything else is within scope, provided that no accounts have been accessed in the last two years.
As I reported earlier this month, account access covers a lot of ground in terms of what someone will mark as active. “If you read or sent an email via Gmail, saved something to Google Drive, downloaded an app from the Google Play Store, added a photo to Google Photos, or even performed a Google search while signed in on your Google account, your precious content is safe.” As for Google Photos, make sure you’ve specifically signed up for it within the last two years.
Don’t delay, act now
You can’t afford to sit back and assume that your content is safe just because you didn’t receive any of the account deletion notification emails that Google sent out this year. We all know how easy it is to miss an email, even an important one like this one from Google. Instead, you should be proactive and log into all the Google accounts and services you use. This will ensure that your content is not deleted. It’s important to note that this removal policy doesn’t just apply to Gmail and Photos; instead, it’s an account-based thing that also captures Google Drive, Docs, and Calendar data.