The countdown clock for the great inactive Google account purge is ticking. Act fast to save your old Gmail and Photos content. Here’s what you need to know and do.
11/28 updates below. This article was originally published on November 26.
With just days to go until the December 1 deadline when Google starts 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, for the vast majority of Gmail and Photos users, their accounts will remain safe from the content deletions to come. That’s because most of the 1.8 billion Gmail users and 2 billion Google Photos users have active accounts.
In Google policy terms, they have accessed their Google accounts within the last two years. Although no statistics are available to reveal just how many inactive Google accounts there are, if the number is just 1%, that 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 great trashcan in the sky.
Why Is Google Deleting Gmail And Photos Content?
The official reason is that of improving security. As Ruth Kricheli, a vice president of product management at Google, said in a May 2023 update, “If an account hasn’t been used for an extended period of time, it is more likely to be compromised.” This might sound like something of a stretch, but it does make sense, as older accounts are less likely to have things such as two-factor authentication running. Google itself says that it has internal data that suggests these inactive accounts are, in fact, “10x less likely than active accounts” to be using 2FA. I would advise you complete the Google Account Security Checkup when you sign into an inactive account so as to ensure it is properly protected. A compromised Google account is akin to the keys of the online kingdom for a threat actor, although the value of an abandoned account could be argued to be much less than an active one. I suspect that there are additional reasons behind the change to the inactive account policy, not least the cost of storing all that apparently unwanted data.
11/28 update: While data from inactive Google accounts, including Google Photos and Gmail content, is likely to be deleted from December 1, other Google-held data appears to have already gone missing in action, according to some users. Google Drive users have been reporting how their data has disappeared, as their accounts appear to have been reset to a status from May 2023. Taking to the official support forum for Google Drive, users have said that their desktop Drive folder was missing six months of files and showing a structure from May.
“My Google Drive files suddenly disappeared,” one user said, “The Drive literally went back to condition in May 2023. data from May until today disappeared, and the folder structure went back to status in May.” Another reported, “We are having the exact same issues, we have a managing director that came to me and after looking it seems like end of April early May was the last time any file was modified. This user works primarily from G drive and it seems like Google was not uploading their files to the cloud but there is no way for us as IT admins to know this.”
I have contacted Google for an update on what is happening, but a statement was not available at the time of publication. However, a user called Saitej, who was flagged as a Google employee and member of the Google Drive team, has posted a response in the support forum thread. “We’re investigating reports of an issue impacting a limited subset of Drive for desktop users,” Saitej said, “and will follow up with more updates.” The same user advised against disconnecting the affected account within Google Drive for desktop or deleting the app data folder.
Another user posted to the support forum that the issue appeared to be with 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 that your local, cached, un-uploaded files are now hidden away in a backup folder.” Although the user posted a workaround that they used to recover missing data for their partner, I would stick to the advice not to touch anything until Google support has come back with an official statement.
How To Prevent Google From Deleting Your Gmail And Photos Content
So, what must you do to guarantee that your precious memories are saved from this purge? First, if your Google account is linked to an educational establishment or is a business one, it is outside of the scope of the inactive account policy and your content and data are safe. If your account includes YouTube content, then it is also safe. Everything else, however, is within scope, provided there has been no account access across the previous two years.
As I reported earlier this month, account access covers a lot of ground in terms of what will flag one as being active. “If you’ve read or sent an email using Gmail, stored something in Google Drive, downloaded an app from the Google Play Store, added a photo to Google Photos, or even performed a Google search while logged into your Google account, your precious content is safe.” Regarding Google Photos, you need to ensure you have logged into it specifically 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 have not received one 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 from Google. Instead, you need to be proactive and sign into any and all Google accounts and services you use. That way, you can be sure your content will not be deleted. It’s important to note that this purging policy doesn’t apply only to Gmail and Photos; instead, it’s an account-based thing that will also catch Google Drive, Docs and Calendar data.