Google set to delete millions of Gmail accounts in weeks – is your account safe?

A person holds up a phone with Gmail on it, in front of a Google logo (image: Getty Images)

Your Gmail account could be at risk of deletion from December 2023 as Google is set to roll out a major security update. It means you could lose access to key online accounts your Google email is associated with unless you take action now.

Accounts the search engine giant deems to be ‘inactive’ will be removed over fears they can be hijacked by scammers. As well as email accounts, the mass-removal will hit associated Google Workspace apps. So, if you have photos or documents connected to your Gmail, these will be at risk too.

It comes as scams defrauded people across the UK of £580 million in the first six months of 2023. Delivery firms have been a particular target for criminals, with some of the biggest names out there – such as Royal Mail and Evri – being used by criminals in an attempt to steal your money.

So, ahead of Google’s scams crackdown, what does it class as a dormant account – and how can you ensure your Gmail doesn’t get deleted? We’ve got all the info you need to know.

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Is my Gmail account affected?

Under the new Google rules, if your personal account hasn’t been signed into for two years, it will be deleted along with its contents. So, as well as losing your emails on Gmail, you will lose anything you’ve done across Google Docs, Drive, Meet, Calendar and in Google Photos.

Google says it has provided “plenty of notice” to account holders who’re at risk. The deletion of inactive accounts begins in December 2023 and is being conducted in a “phased” manner.

You should know if your Gmail is up for deletion because the search engine giant says it has sent out multiple reminder notifications to affected accounts and their back-up email addresses. The first accounts to go will be ones that have been created but have never been used again.

How can I keep my Gmail account active?

You only have a matter of weeks before Google begins its mass deletion of inactive accounts. So, you need to act immediately if you’re going to stop your Gmail from disappearing.

Fortunately, it has provided some tips for how you can show it that your account is still in use. Google says you should sign in, and to make double sure your Gmail looks active do one of the following:

  • Read or send an email (you can send yourself a message from one of your other accounts).
  • Use Google Drive (a really quick way to do this is to create a document and type in a word or two)
  • Watch a YouTube video (make sure you’re signed in to your Gmail when you do so).
  • Download an app on Google play Store.
  • Do a Google Search (and ensure you’re signed in when you do it).
  • Use the ‘sign in with Google’ option when logging into a non-Google account you have (for example, if you use your Gmail for your TV streaming subscription).

Google says Gmails that are associated with an active log-in for things like Google One, news publications or other third-party apps will be considered to be active. Likewise, any accounts that have YouTube videos associated with them will not be deleted. It advises people to set up a recovery email to ensure their account notifications aren’t missed.

If you have a Google Photos account, you will also need to separately sign in to it every two years to keep it safe from deletion.

Why is Google deleting accounts?

Google’s VP for product management, Ruth Kricheli, announced the Gmail crackdown in a blog post in May 2023. She said the move would help to keep other accounts “safe and secure” by cracking down on phishing scams and account hijacking.

“If an account hasn’t been used for an extended period of time, it is more likely to be compromised,” Ms Kricheli said. “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 10-times less likely than active accounts to have 2-step-verification set up. Meaning, 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.”

By introducing the two-year limit, she added that Google was aligning itself with industry standards and said the move would limit the amount of time the search engine giant retains people’s personal info for.