Google is preparing to delete your photos

May 19, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Google is preparing to delete your photos

May 19, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Google has announced an update to its policies on inactive accounts in a new blog post. The update says that Google plans to start deleting photos from inactive accounts starting in December 2023. It defines inactive accounts as accounts that haven’t been logged into for a two-year period. While most people actively using Google Photos won’t be affected, those with older or backup accounts might see their images disappear.

Photos aren’t the only things that’ll start to be deleted, either. Google says they may also delete accounts and data from Google Workspaces, including Gmail Docs, Drive, Meet and Calendar. To retain the latter, you simply need to log into your Google account. But for photos, you will need to specifically log into your Google Photos account once every two years in order to avoid deletion of its contents.

[Related reading: New Google Photos storage rules could delete your Gmail and Google Drive files too]

Google says that the updated policy is in the name of security. Old accounts, especially those without two-factor authentication, are often left with passwords that have been compromised. With as many hacks and data leaks as there have been in the last few years, containing millions of people’s login details, it’s a legitimate risk.

To reduce this risk, we are updating our inactivity policy for Google Accounts to 2 years across our products. Starting later this year, if a Google Account has not been used or signed into for at least 2 years, we may delete the account and its contents – including content within Google Workspace (Gmail, Docs, Drive, Meet, Calendar) and Google Photos.

The policy only applies to personal Google Accounts, and will not affect accounts for organizations like schools or businesses. This update aligns our policy with industry standards around retention and account deletion and also limits the amount of time Google retains your unused personal information.

The new policy is already in effect. However, accounts won’t begin being deleted until December 2023. Google says that they will send out numerous emails to both the primary account email address and the recovery address where available leading up to any potential deletion.

In order to keep your Google account alive and prevent the deletion of your photos and any other data on your Google account, all you need to do is sign in at least once every two years. Google lists a number of activities as examples to keep your account alive – assuming you’re logged in – which include:

  • Reading or sending an email
  • Using Google Drive
  • Watching a YouTube video
  • Downloading an app on the Google Play Store
  • Using Google Search
  • Using Sign in with Google to sign in to a third-party app or service

Simply doing the above doesn’t mean your Google Photos account will be safe, though. In order to keep your Google Photos account, you will need to specifically log into Google Photos at least once every two years. But you don’t need to do this from a computer. Other activities on your phone will also count as logging in and keeping it active. Google lists a number of activities here to keep your Google Photos account active.

Google did clarify that they do not plan to delete content from YouTube channels. Even if you’ve not logged in for more than two years, your videos seem to be safe. It looks like those accounts will simply be made inactive and will need to be reactivated.

You can read the full update on the Google blog.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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