Q and A: Do Gmail Accounts Ever Expire?

QuestionDear Kalena

I was just wondering if you knew whether Gmail accounts ever expire? About 6 months ago, my company tried to register our brandname @gmail.com so we could associate it with our Google+ account, but somebody was already squatting it. I have been emailing the account every month but my emails are never returned. Is there an expiry period for Gmail accounts and if so, can we apply to take over the account if it relates to our brand name?

thanks
Hannah

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Dear Hannah

I was researching this issue earlier this year for a client who was trying to recover a brand-related YouTube channel and Gmail account being squatted. It took me quite a while to find the answer to this one because Google accounts are a bit of a rabbit hole – even Will Wheaton has trouble with his Gmail accounts!


The Good News

According to a post by a software engineer on the Google Product Forum, a Gmail account does expire and will be deleted after approximately 9 months of inactivity.

It’s not made clear what sort of activity counts, whether logging in, POP/IMAP, forwarding or something else. But if you check the *Last account activity* while logged into your Gmail account, it will show you what type of activity is registered. This link at the bottom of every Gmail page shows you information about recent activity in your mail. Recent activity includes any time that your mail was accessed using a regular web browser, a POP1 client, a mobile device, etc. It will list the IP address that accessed your mail, the associated location, as well as the time and date, so you will be able to determine what Google considers *activity* on your Gmail account and make sure that activity happens on a regular basis to prevent expiration of your email address.


The Bad News

According to a post by John Nu, (an official Gmail Top Contributor), an expired Gmail account can’t be reactivated. Here’s an extract of John’s post:

“Google tracks to determine which accounts have been essentially abandoned by people and eventually deletes them. Each account has essentially two sets of information associated with it, the definition of the account, which includes the account name, ownership information, recovery information, etc.; and the contents of the account. There is also a list of reserved names, which contains every account name that was ever issued by Google and, by implication, variations of the name (e.g., if an account is in the name of “JohnDoe,” then “John.Doe,” “johndoe,” and other variations are implicitly reserved).

The contents of the account are the first to go after an account is deleted. When the account is deleted, the contents only exist in backups. Google only keeps the backups for a limited time, so once the last of the backups that contained the account contents expire, the contents are no longer recoverable.

The record of the account itself is stored separately and has a different retention cycle. That information does not expire until a while after the account contents have completely expired. Once that is deleted, Google has no way to validate ownership of an account.

That leaves only the entry on the list of reserved names. Google leaves the names on that list indefinitely to protect users from potential identity theft: If you abandoned or deleted an account and someone else could reuse the name, it would be very easy for them to present themselves to other websites, etc. as being you. Unfortunately, however, the prior owners are locked out as well, though, because Google lost the ability to verify ownership when the records of the account expired and were deleted.”


Google Account Deactivation and Recovery

According to Google there are several reasons why a username may be unavailable, but they don’t reveal specifics: “To help protect your privacy, we don’t reveal details about why a specific username is unavailable, or whether a username has been deleted.”

Depending on the stage of the deactivation, a Gmail account may still be recoverable. Visit Google Account Recovery and enter the email address.

If it takes you to a *reset password* page, then the account is still recoverable. If you get a message that the account is no longer recoverable, it means that it has likely reached the last phase described above and there is no known way to recover the account or even reuse the email address.


Username Squatting / Brand Impersonation

So having a Gmail account deactivated is one thing, but what if you notice your company name or brand being used on an active Gmail, Google+ or other Google-related account?

Firstly, you’ll need to determine if the profile is being used to deliberately impersonate your brand. It may be simply that another entity shares the same or similar name as your brand and is using the profile legitimately. Google won’t take action against these profiles. However, if you discover content with obvious intent to damage, you *may* have a case for Google to intervene and force a handover of the account or at least, account closure :

“Profiles or pages with clear malicious or personal attacks will be removed, with no proof of identity necessary from the person making the report… Pages that impersonate another company or organization will require an authorized representative of the company or organization being impersonated to provide a form of business verification.”

The process to follow in this case is to click on the Report This Profile link while viewing the profile. Obviously it will help your case if you own the trademark for your brand / company name.


Google Account Deactivation Prevention

There are three lessons here:

1) Reserve your brand or company related Gmail accounts NOW, before they get squatted.

2) If you currently have one or more Gmail accounts, make sure you log into each account on a regular basis to keep them active and make sure they don’t expire. Implement more challenging passwords and other security measures to make sure the accounts don’t get hacked or stolen.

3) If your brand-related Google accounts are being squatted, approach the owners and politely ask if they would be willing to hand over the accounts. If that fails and you don’t have an obvious case for impersonation, trademark violation or copyright infringement, you might consider negotiating a price for hand over. If you own the trademark for your brand/company name being squatted, Report an Inappropriate Profile to Google. If that fails, give up.

Hope this helps!
Kalena

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