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Google starts deleting Gmail accounts that have been inactive for over two years

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

And we have got some tech news you can use this morning. Any chance there's a Gmail account that you all made years ago that you have not been using? Well, it may soon be toast, if it is not already. Google began deleting old Gmail accounts yesterday - old meaning inactive for more than two years. It's not just Gmail though. It's Google Drive, Google Docs and Google Photos. To help us understand why Google is doing this and what, if anything, you can do to salvage your old accounts, I'm joined now by Richard Lawler. He's senior news editor at the tech website The Verge. Welcome to the show.

RICHARD LAWLER: Hey, thank you for having me.

KHALID: So let's begin with the question of what is behind Google's decision to delete these accounts?

LAWLER: I think there are a couple of things behind the decision. What Google has explained about why it's doing this - it starts with security. You have these accounts that have been around for many, many years that were set up when security standards were different, with passwords that may have been leaked since then, that are spread across the internet and available to hackers and attackers to do all kinds of odd and bad things with. So you have a lot of accounts that are lying around unused. You also have a lot of spam accounts that may have been set up by bot networks or in automated ways that could be used for, again, various nefarious efforts. Another thing is just the storage space that all these take up. This is a company where they're suddenly looking at the bottom line. And when you have who knows how many inactive accounts sitting around doing nothing, maybe it makes sense to go ahead and get rid of them.

KHALID: As we said at the outset, this shift in Google policy seems to apply to accounts that are inactive for two years or more. But are there any accounts that fit that description that will not be deleted?

LAWLER: Yes. If it has a payment card attached to it, if it has an active subscription, if it has perhaps ever bought content, like, in the Google Play Store on Android, or, like, maybe a song or a video or something like that, that is something that would, in Google's eyes, make that account active, and then it wouldn't be deleted.

KHALID: And is this a rolling purge? It seems like Google has already begun deleting some of these accounts, it announced, or it should be as of December 1.

LAWLER: Google hasn't gone into detail about how exactly it will do this. Typically, when Google announces changes like this, it takes quite a while for them to roll out widely. And even though they've said that they may delete accounts that have been inactive for at least two years, that doesn't necessarily mean that they automatically will or that they will do it right away.

KHALID: Yeah. You know, I bet there are some folks listening right now who want to make sure that they keep old accounts alive. So what advice do you have? How should they do that?

LAWLER: Well, the No. 1 way that they can do that is to log into it.

KHALID: Just log in. You don't really need to send an email or anything like that.

LAWLER: Just log in, and, you know, that will be enough to kind of reset the counter. Another thing that people should consider, especially for the accounts that they use, is to take advantage of features that they have to have someone else manage your account if, for some reason, you can't access it, if something happens to you. Or you can use - they have an inactive Google account manager. So for - I think for people who are, for example, in the military who might not be able to access their account for a while or for some other reason know that they will be away for a while, they can suspend it, and then it won't be deleted.

KHALID: You know, you mentioned this is useful advice for people to log in if they can remember their password. I also saw some reporting, some guidance from your website, The Verge, about how to retrieve accounts that maybe you created, that you forgot about, which I will confess, I used the advice on that website and discovered an account that I had created years ago that I had completely forgotten about and had not been logged into for over two years. Can you help us understand? What should people do, and is there a mechanism to find out if you maybe have old accounts you don't even remember?

LAWLER: Yes, they have something called their username recovery. If you go to the accounts.google.com, you can look for that. And you can enter email accounts that may be attached to it, like even a non-Google address or a phone number that may be attached to it. And they can help you find those kind of lost or dangling accounts.

KHALID: What does this mean for Google, for those of us who use Google? Should we expect at all a shift in the user experience going forward?

LAWLER: I think that, you know, for the last couple of years, the way that we think about Google has changed. As I mentioned that they had layoffs and that may be tied to the kind of financial implications of this decision. Also, from the user side, when you have your information stored in these Cloud services or when you use Google, something that we've thought about is that it would just always be there. And that might not always be the case. It is a business, and they may decide to go another direction.

KHALID: That's Richard Lawler. He's senior news editor at The Verge. Thank you so much for joining us.

LAWLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
Lennon Sherburne