UPDATE: 24 May 2023: A Proposal for “Enhanced Recovery Services” for Locked Out Google Accounts
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Google has announced that inactive personal Google accounts will be removed and all of their data deleted after two years, after a number of emailed reminders:
Right now I’m only going to thumbnail some potentially serious issues with this policy. They deserve a much more detailed examination that I will address when I can, but there are many associated concerns that Google did not address publicly, and these matter enormously because Google is so much a part of so many people’s lives around the planet.
– Will account names become available for reissuing after an account is deleted? Google policy historically has been that used account names are permanently barred from reissuing. I am assuming that this is still the case, but I’d appreciate confirmation. This would be the best policy from a security standpoint, of course.
UPDATE (17 May 2023): I’ve now received confirmation from Google that account names will not be reissued after these account deletions. Good.
– Given the many ways that users can lose access to their Google accounts, including password and other authentication confusion, lockouts in error due to location login issues, and many other possibilities related to authentication and account recovery complexities, I am not convinced that deleting user data after two years of inactivity is a wise policy. While keeping the data around forever is impractical, two years seems very short from a legal standpoint in an array of ways, even if routine user access is blocked after two years of inactivity. While many users locked out of their accounts simply create new accounts, many still have crucial data in those “trapped” accounts, and most users unfortunately do not use the “Takeout” facilities Google provides to download data while accounts are still active.
– The impact on user photos and public YouTube videos are especially of concern. Many popular and important YouTube videos are associated with very old accounts that are likely effectively abandoned. The loss of these public videos from YouTube could be devastating.
UPDATE (17 May 2023): While their original announcement yesterday said that YouTube videos would be deleted when accounts were deleted under this policy, Google has responded to concerns about YouTube videos and has now made a statement that “At this time, we do not plan to delete accounts with YouTube videos.” Obviously this leaves some related open questions for the future, but is still great news.
– Many people use Google accounts for logging in to non-Google sites via federated login (“Login with Google”) mechanisms. While Google says these logins will continue to constitute activity, many of these accounts are likely fairly old and their associated users may not have used them for anything directly on Google for years (including reading emails). If they also have not been logging on to those third party sites for extended periods, when they do try again they’re likely to be quite upset to find their Google accounts necessary for access have been deleted.
I could go on but for now I just wanted to point out a few of the complex negative ramifications of Google’s policy in this regard, irrespective of their assertion that they’re meeting “industry standards” related to account retention and deletion.
As it stands, I predict that a great many people are going to lose an enormous amount of data due to this Google policy — data that in many cases is very important to them, and in the case of YouTube, often important to the entire world.