Google is set to vaporize a big chunk of online data in the name of cybersecurity. In December, the company will get rid of any accounts that have been inactive for two years or longer.
This includes Gmail, Docs, Drive, Meet, Photos, and Calendar, plus the Google-owned YouTube. Start trying to recall your high school Gmail account's password now, because your past memories might be on the chopping block.
We don't know how many user accounts will be impacted, but Google has hosted billions of them for longer than the iPhone has existed, so it's safe to say that it will be a large number. All Google business accounts or school accounts will be safe.
Why Google Is Deleting Accounts
Granted, Google has a pretty good reason for the destruction. Old, long-inactive accounts are more likely to be compromised by bad actors, as the company says in a recent blog post announcing the changes to its inactive accounts policy.
“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. Our internal analysis shows abandoned accounts are at least 10x less likely than active accounts to have 2-step-verification set up.”
Once these vulnerabilities are exploited, Google says, old accounts can serve as hubs for malicious activity that could include spam or identity theft.
Perhaps coincidentally, Google has also been focused on other cost-cutting measures recently.
The new policy is in effect now, but no accounts will be deleted until December 2023. Google will send “multiple notifications over the months leading up to deletion” to both the account's email address and to a recovery email address, provided one is available.
The Internet Is Ephemeral
This news is a big blow for internet archivists, who will now lose access to a host of YouTube commentary and forum post images hosted in Google Photos. Google is joining a long list of companies that have deleted swathes of internet history with the click of a button.
The reasons can vary. In 2019, Myspace deleted 12 years of music by accident during a server migration. Last year, Flickr deleted its free accounts' non-public photos (after the first 50) in order to free up storage space. Back in 2018, Tumblr banned years' worth of posts in a failed bid to lure advertisers by ditching adult content.
More recently, Twitter announced plans to delete inactive accounts as well, wiping out the digital footprint of most deceased or dormant users from the platform's history.
The internet may seem like it will last forever, it's no Great Pyramid of Giza. Some of its biggest sources of data storage are already showing cracks just a few decades in.
What Should I Do About It?
If you have an old Gmail account that you'd like to keep around, it's easy to save. You just need to log into it and create a little activity. But all bets are off after December, so don't put it off until the last minute. Plus, you'll need to continue logging in every two years, or you'll just lose the account on a later date.
Good luck, though, as digging up old passwords can be tough, unless you invested in a good password manager.
Plenty of old Gmail account passwords are already lost like tears in the rain, and within months, all their photos, files, and personal messages will just be another dim memory.