Tech giant Google announced that it will delete any accounts that have been inactive for at least two years—including Gmail and YouTube accounts.
Google’s policy of deleting accounts will start in December 2023, and it will include Google accounts including YouTube, Google Docs, Google Meet, Google Calendar, Google Photos, and Gmail. The company said it will send out several warning notices to users and will conduct the purge of inactive accounts in several phases.
“The policy only applies to personal Google Accounts, and will not affect accounts for organizations like schools or businesses. This update aligns our policy with industry standards around retention and account deletion and also limits the amount of time Google retains your unused personal information,” according to the post.
The firm said that those inactive accounts are more likely to be hacked or compromised in some way and may have used old passwords that have since been compromised. Older accounts, it said, are much more likely not to have two-factor authentication in use, which Google said makes the data less secure.
“These accounts are often vulnerable, and once an account is compromised, it can be used for anything from identity theft to a vector for unwanted or even malicious content, like spam,” Google said in a May 16 bulletin, adding that it is “going to roll this out slowly and carefully, with plenty of notice.”
“We will take a phased approach, starting with accounts that were created and never used again,” it continued.
Gmail, one of the most popular email services in the world, is estimated to be used by at least 1.8 billion people worldwide. As for YouTube, the service has more than 2.6 billion monthly active users worldwide, data show. It’s not clear how many Google accounts are inactive.
How to Keep an Account Active
According to the Mountain View, California-based search giant, one way to keep a Google Account active is to sign in once every two years at the least. If one has signed into the account or any of the services—such as YouTube or Gmail—in recent days, the account is considered active and won’t be flagged for deleting.
Other activity will also be considered, including sending or reading an email via a Gmail account, using Google Drive in some way, watching a video on YouTube, downloading a Google Play app, using Google Search, or using the Sign In feature.
But in the notice, Google said that users should back up their data and information associated with a Google Account.
“We encourage users to provide a recovery email at sign-up. It’s important to make sure this recovery email in your account settings is up-to-date,” the firm said. “We also offer a variety of free tools to help manage your account and provide options to backup your data. You can download and export your data to other platforms through our Takeout feature, which has been available for over a decade. Similarly, Inactive Account Manager allows users to decide what happens to their account and data when it becomes inactive for a period of up to 18 months.”
Google also said that users with a subscription set up via a Google account like Google One are also considered account activity, meaning those accounts will be spared from deletion.
“Additionally,” it said, “we do not have plans to delete accounts with YouTube videos at this time.”
Google didn’t say what it will do with account names after the accounts are deleted. The company also is following Twitter chief executive and owner Elon Musk recently confirming plans to purge dormant Twitter accounts and re-use the account names.
“We’re purging accounts that have had no activity at all for several years, so you will probably see follower count drop,” wrote Musk, who did not say when the purge will start, on Twitter on May 8.
New Password Changes
Earlier this month, Google also announced it would roll out a new policy around passwords, opting to ultimately replace them with “passkeys.” That came after Apple announced it would be switching to passkeys and will eventually remove passwords entirely.
“Of course, like any new beginning, the change to passkeys will take time. That’s why passwords and 2SV will still work for Google Accounts. We look forward to helping people, and others in the industry, take this next leap to make signing in easier and safer with Google,” the company said in a post. Google has said that the passkeys are more secure than passwords and resist phishing or brute force attacks.
The passkey technology, it claimed, will allow billions of users to sign into its websites and apps in the same way they unlock a device. While in the post, Google also suggested that passwords will likely eventually be phased out for accounts.