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Google Will Delete Email Accounts and Photos in Just 2 Weeks—How to Protect Yours

The tech giant announced it would purge some Gmail addresses and other Google accounts on Dec. 1.

From the smartphone in your pocket to the laptop on your desk, technology now allows us to store a lot of our most important information online. But while these advances can often make life a lot more convenient and secure, they also open us up to an entirely different set of vulnerabilities when something goes wrong. The neverending risk of losing access to sensitive documents, important files, and even irreplaceable memories also looms over everyone's digital domain. And now, Google has announced it will delete some email accounts and photos from its servers in just two weeks. Read on to find out how to protect yours from the scheduled purge.

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Google will begin deleting inactive user accounts on Dec. 1.

A young man looking at his laptop with a confused and angry look on his face

It's not uncommon to change email addresses or move from one digital account to another over time. So if you've got a Google inbox that's been sitting dormant, you may want to take note, as the tech giant will begin deleting inactive accounts on Dec. 1.

The move was first announced in a May 16 blog post from Ruth Kricheli, the company's vice president of product management. Beginning next month, any Google account that has "not been used or signed into or used for at least two years" will be removed, along with all of their saved data.

The company specified it was taking a tiered approach to purging the dormant accounts, beginning by deleting accounts that were created and then never used again.

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The move will affect popular online tools, including Gmail, Google Photos, Drive, and more.

Gmail application icon on a smartphone screen

According to the announcement, the move will see data saved via the tech giant's most popular tools deleted when the new policy takes effect. This includes files and data within Google Workspace, which covers Gmail; online office tool suite Docs; online file storage service Drive; video conferencing tool Meet; the Calendar scheduling tool; and digital image storage tool Google Photos.

Notably, the changes will not affect any business accounts or those affiliated with organizations such as schools, nor will they affect any accounts that previously posted a video to YouTube at any time, The Independent reports. The company says it will "send multiple notifications" in the months running up to any potential deletion, as well as to any recovery email addresses set for accounts.

"We are going to roll this out slowly and carefully, with plenty of notice," Kricheli wrote in the blog post.

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The company says it's purging the dormant accounts for safety reasons.

google gmail on laptop

While it might seem like simple digital housekeeping, Kricheli explained that the mass deletions are being made in the name of user safety—especially as older, inactive accounts are more likely to end up getting hacked or stolen.

"This is because forgotten or unattended accounts often rely on old or re-used passwords that may have been compromised, haven't had two-factor authentication set up, and receive fewer security checks by the user," she wrote.

Kricheli detailed how this could create some serious problems down the line. "Our internal analysis shows abandoned accounts are at least 10x less likely than active accounts to have 2-step verification set up," adding that once someone took control of the vulnerable accounts, they could be used to commit identity theft or even forward phishing messages or other spam.

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Here's how to prevent your Google account from being deleted.

A young man sitting in his kitchen using a laptop to check his email

Fortunately, the vast majority of regular Google users don't have to worry about their email inbox or digital files getting wiped in a few weeks. But if you've got an older or separate account that doesn't get much attention, you can still do a few things to keep it safe.

At the very least, Google suggests signing in to your account once every 24 months to maintain its active status. From there, use the account to read or send an email, watch a YouTube video, open documents on Google Drive, download an app from the Google Play store, or even simply run a Google search while signed in to log activity. The company also says it considers active subscriptions to count as account activity.

Kricheli's post also warned that "you will need to specifically sign in to Google Photos every two years to be considered active, which will ensure your photos and other content are not deleted."

Users are also urged to set up a recovery email for their accounts, allowing them to receive potential shutdown notices or other notifications when it's at risk. Anyone who wants to delete old accounts can use tools provided by Google to download and export their data before doing so.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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