Google has announced it will soon undertake a massive deletion of unused and compromised accounts across its services.
This unprecedented cleanup effort aims to enhance security and reduce vulnerabilities, but will result in millions of neglected Google Gmail accounts being permanently erased.
Two-Year Inactivity Policy Starts in December 2023
In a May 2022 blog post, Google revealed its new policy to delete accounts inactive for two or more years. This policy will take effect in December 2023, meaning accounts not signed into since late 2021 face removal.
Google Cites Security Benefits of Mass Deletion
Google states the mass deletion stems from analyses showing neglected accounts are highly vulnerable to compromise and misuse. Forgotten accounts tend to have weaker passwords, lack two-factor authentication, and receive fewer security updates from users.
Once taken over through compromised credentials, inactive accounts can be used for identity theft, spreading malware, and other criminal activity. Deleting them en masse reduces this threat surface for Google and users.
Phased Removal Starting With Never-Used Accounts
The account deletions will occur in phases beginning with accounts created but never utilized. Google will send multiple notifications over several months before deleting accounts or their data.
Notifications will go to account email addresses and any secondary recovery emails on file. But for untouched accounts, warnings may go unseen, still resulting in removal after two years inactive.
Easy Ways to Keep Account Active
To avoid losing data, users simply need to log into their Google accounts once every two years. Even basic actions like checking Gmail or watching YouTube will qualify as activity.
Other ways to stay active include using Google Drive, Search, Android apps, or signing into third-party sites with Google login credentials. Setting a recurring calendar event can also remind users to log in periodically.
Backup Options for At-Risk Accounts
For those unsure if accounts will remain active, Google suggests users immediately enable backup options before mass deletions begin.
Key ways to preserve data from inactive accounts include:
- Using Google Takeout to download copies of emails, photos, and other content.
- Setting an auto-reply in Gmail to notify senders if the account closes.
- Utilizing Inactive Account Manager to arrange backups or account deletion after 18 months inactive.
- Sharing specific files with trusted contacts chosen by the user if the account goes unused.
Millions of Accounts Face Erasure
Given Google’s ubiquity, its two-year inactivity policy likely puts millions of accounts at risk of permanent removal. Accounts unused since 2021 will be the first batch deleted starting in late 2023.
Forgetting about old Google accounts for school, work, side projects or other purposes could have real consequences as neglect may erase their data. Even active users could lose access to very old or spare accounts created long ago.
While a hassle for account owners, Google frames the mass deletion as an essential security initiative and responsibility to protect its infrastructure. But the company does aim to give users ample warning and backup tools before purging accounts en masse.