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February 26, 2024

Google Begins Mass Account Deletion, Users Urged To Save Data

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Nov 28, 2023

Google has begun deleting inactive Gmail, Google Photos, and other Google service accounts that have been unused for 2 years. The deletions started on December 1st, 2023 and will continue over the coming months. Users are being urged to log in and save data before it is erased.

Background

Google’s new account deletion policy was first announced in mid 2022. The aim is to free up storage space by removing data from accounts that are no longer in use.

"As part of our ongoing efforts to keep our products organized and provide the best possible experience, we’re introducing new policies for consumer accounts that are either inactive or over certain storage limits," Google said in an email to users.

Initially Google said accounts inactive for 2 years would be eligible for deletion, but more recently clarified that only accounts inactive for 24 months exactly would be affected in the initial wave starting December 1st.

What Data Is At Risk

The accounts at risk of deletion contain a variety of potentially important personal data, including:

  • Years of Gmail email history
  • Google Drive documents
  • Google Calendar appointments
  • Google Photos memories
  • YouTube video upload history
  • Blogger blogs

And more. For many users this data is invaluable, capturing memories and important personal and professional information spanning many years.

Which Accounts Will Be Deleted

Google has specified that only accounts meeting the following criteria will be deleted in this initial wave:

  • Fully inactive for 24 months (no sign in or use of account services)
  • Under certain storage threshold limits
  • Created in 2017 or earlier

So newer or lightly used accounts are not yet endangered.

Additionally, enterprise Google Workspace accounts managed by administrators seem to be exempt from deletion.

How Many Accounts Does This Impact

Google has not provided exact numbers, but based on recent user growth figures it is estimated that hundreds of millions of accounts could be deleted in this first wave if users do not act.

How To Save Your Account

Saving your inactive Google account from deletion is relatively simple. Follow these steps before the December 2025 deadline:

  1. Sign in to your Google account
  2. Visit account settings
  3. Select "Data from inactive account"
  4. Click "Keep my inactive account"

Alternatively, using any Google service while signed in should also reset the inactivity timer.

For extra protection, consider enabling 2-step verification for your Google account.

Why Is Google Doing This?

Google says the mass deletion of inactive accounts serves two main purposes:

  1. Free up storage infrastructure: By removing unused accounts wasting space, Google can reduce storage costs substantially.
  2. Enhance security: Eliminating stagnant accounts reduces risks associated with credentials reuse and hijacking.

However, some speculate alternative motivations as well:

  • Boost engagement metrics by removing inactive users
  • Drive more users to upgrade to paid storage tiers
  • Remove outdated legacy account configurations
  • Migrate users towards newer Google services & features

In any case, users stand to lose access to precious personal data if they do not take action.

What Happens To The Deleted Data

According to Google’s account deletion policies, once an inactive account is erased the data is gone for good:

“We want to be transparent that even if your data is permanently deleted from our systems, Google may retain anonymous usage and analytics data related to your account.”

So even years of emails, photos, documents and more cannot be recovered – only anonymized metadata remains.

This has sparked some backlash over lack of sufficient user warnings and controls before outright deleting valuable user data.

Will More Accounts Be Deleted In The Future?

Almost certainly yes. Google has stated this initial wave of deletions targeting 24 month inactive 2017-or-older accounts is just the beginning.

Next on the chopping block are likely:

  • 2018+ accounts inactive 24 months
  • Accounts over storage quotas
  • Additional services like YouTube, Blogger etc

So users would be wise to remain vigilant even if they already saved accounts this round.

What Can Users Do To Protect Data?

Aside from logging in to reset the inactivity timer, experts recommend proactively downloading important Google data for backup purposes.

You can download your personal archive containing most Google service data here:

https://takeout.google.com

The full process takes some time but ensures you have copies of emails, photos, and anything else important to you. Storage services like Dropbox, OneDrive, or an external hard drive provide alternative hosting options.

Will This Policy Impact Other Tech Companies?

Possibly. Google is not the first technology company to delete outdated user accounts en masse, but the scale here is unprecedented.

Other sites like Yahoo, YouTube, and Flickr have taken similar measures to prune stale accounts over the years. If Google’s infrastructure cost savings are substantial, it would not be surprising to see the likes of Facebook, Twitter, or Amazon follow suit.

For consumers, it emphasizes the importance of downloading or backing up your data even for services you do not use regularly. Expect terms of service for storage and retention policies to receive greater scrutiny going forward.

Summarizing Key Takeaways

  • Google has started deleting fully inactive accounts from 2017 or earlier
  • Hundreds of millions of accounts likely impacted
  • Gmail, Photos, Drive data erased and unrecoverable
  • Users advised to sign in & save accounts before 12/2025
  • More accounts still endangered as deletion expands

With many users still unaware of Google’s actions, it remains to be seen what public response will be as more discover years of personal data gone overnight if they failed to read notifications and heed warnings adequately. For Google, while a move clearly planned deliberately to optimize infrastructure, the PR optics of mass deleting user data without sufficient caution may still leave them open to criticism despite likely legal protections. Going forward, set yourself a calendar reminder to re-engage with old accounts in case other technology giants follow Google’s lead!

Tech Company Accounts in Danger
Google Hundreds of millions
Facebook Billions
Twitter Hundreds of millions
Amazon Hundreds of millions
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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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