Last year, Google announced it was changing their policy on inactive Gmail accounts.

In this article, we’ll explore why Google has updated it’s policy, what this means for data owners and what you can do to proactively protect your business’s data.

In May 2023, Ruth Kricheli (VP, Product Management) said:

“If an account hasn’t been used for an extended period of time, it is more likely to be compromised…To reduce this risk, we are updating our inactivity policy for Google Accounts to 2 years across our products.” She continues, “if a Google Account has not been used or signed into for at least 2 years, we may delete the account and its contents.”

Experian’s latest research

'not existing' email inboxes have nearly doubled in the last 6 months

So, what does this mean for businesses?

Experian’s latest research indicates that the number of email inboxes flagging as ‘not existing’ during validation exercises has almost doubled in the last six months*. Given Google’s share of the email market is approx 43%1 this not only means your data is likely to contain inactive email accounts, but it also increases the likelihood of you holding email data that has been compromised.

Why has Google made this change?

In 2024, there were 4.6m active users of email around the world. While most of those users have on average 2 active accounts, almost one third of users in the US have four or more**. While this data is not available for Australia it’s likely we have a similar number.

With that many accounts it’s easy to see how people allow them to become dormant. When left dormant and unused they are more likely to be compromised.

Ruth Kricheli (Google) describes the dangers of an unused email account, “This is because forgotten or unattended [email] 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 10x 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.”

So, Google have proactively changed their policy and are deleting old, inactive Gmail accounts, which has subsequently led to the sharp rise in inactive email account detection. Experian’s Bulk email validation services have shown this rise, where we have seen the number of Gmail accounts flagged as ‘not existing’ nearly double over the last 4 months.

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What does it mean for email data owners?

While Google’s actions will benefit the community at large (less abandoned accounts = less risk), it does pose a greater issue for organisations that hold email data. Which, of course, is a large proportion of the businesses that operate in Australia and around the world.

Due to the popularity of Google as an email provider, the volume of Google email accounts typically found in an organisation’s database tends to be quite high. And, through the accelerated action of deleting the unused accounts it means the speed at which email data decays within a database is also accelerating.

We’ve talked many times about the need to maintain good hygiene standards with your email (and other types of) data and as the proportion of inactive email accounts grow then the risks also increase.

Emailing deleted accounts will mean you’re sending to inboxes that are inactive which can quickly result in a poor sender reputation, which, in the most extreme cases can lead to being blacklisted as an email sender altogether. Put simply though, a fall in sender reputation will affect your ability to reach someone’s inbox.

What do I need to do next?

Luckily there are some immediate actions you can take to identify inactive email addresses in your email database.

Firstly, you can cleanse your database. This process, automated by Experian, can be conducted as a one-off exercise, or as an automated batch clean at regular intervals.

During this process, you simply upload the data you hold via a secure FTP and you then receive an email notification when your results are ready. It will break down the status of all the emails you hold in your database (for example, ‘inactive’) and fix any formatting errors. So you will have confidence, that your list is as accurate as possible for your next campaign.

Experian also provides a real-time email validation tool that can operate at the point of capture. So, as you collect emails you can either choose to reject the entry of those believed to be invalid, or simply flag them for review at a later date.

Combining both the real-time and batch services ensures your email data is as clean as it possibly can be, which will give your marketing campaigns that much needed boost.

Contact the Experian team today to discuss how we can help ensure the accuracy of your email database.

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*Six months from the original date of this article – April 2024