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How to Delete a Gmail Account, Completely: Step by Step Guide

It’s a sobering realization when you think about how much information companies like Google have collected about its users. Your search history, your browsing history through Google Chrome, your video viewing habits through YouTube, and even your e-mail from Gmail. While most of this data is anonymized and not directly tied to your identity, it’s still a concern for anyone who wants to keep their digital privacy in check.

Gmail and Privacy Issues

E-mail is an inherently insecure form of communication. There’s no encryption built into the process, it’s just raw text messages bouncing back and forth between servers. Any party between you and the recipient can read the contents of an e-mail with very little effort. Even if one person encrypts their e-mail, if the recipient doesn’t use encryption then the privacy of the conversation is destroyed.

Gmail actually goes a step further than most webmail providers when it comes to protecting user privacy. The service uses HTTPS, the secure version of the familiar HTTP protocol, and encrypts all messages to and from Gmail users. If you e-mail someone else with a Gmail address, your communications stay private on both ends. The moment you receive an e-mail from another party, however, your privacy is broken.

There’s one practice Gmail engages in that causes concern. To monetize the service Google will scan incoming and outgoing messages for keywords, then use the results of those scans to customize ads. If you e-mail a friend about a product, for example, you’re likely to see banner ads for competing products in Gmail and around the web. It’s all part of Google’s extended advertising machine, and it’s made more than a few Gmail users uncomfortable about using the service.

How to Delete a Gmail Account – Step by Step

The only way to ensure your e-mails aren’t scanned for advertising purposes is to delete your Gmail account entirely. Google has made it surprisingly easy to do this. The process takes just a minute or two to complete, and you’ll have multiple avenues of escape if you suddenly change your mind. There’s even convenient links to create and download archived copies of your e-mails, ensuring your data doesn’t disappear even if your Gmail account does.

To delete your Gmail account, you’ll need to have access to a desktop web browser. Gmail apps do not have the deletion feature, and mobile browsers are a bit awkward to use during this process. It’s also worth noting that your e-mail address will no longer work, so make sure you have your contacts up to date and stored elsewhere.

How to delete a Gmail account:

  1. Visit Google’s centralized account page: https://myaccount.google.com
  2. Click the sign-in button in the top right corner.
  3. Sign in using the details for the Gmail account you’re going to delete.
  4. In the topic boxes at the center of the page, look for “Account Preferences”
  5. Click “Delete your account or services”
  6. On the next page, click “Delete products”
  7. Enter your password again.
  8. Download a backup copy of your data before you delete it. See the instructions below for more information.
  9. Click the trash can icon next to Gmail.
  10. If you have other active Google services, you’ll need to enter an alternate e-mail.
  11. Send a verification e-mail to this alt account.
  12. Check your other e-mail address for the verification message.
  13. Click the link in the e-mail to verify your new sign-in address.
  14. Enter your new sign-in e-mail and your Gmail account deletion will be complete.

How to Delete Gmail and Other Google Accounts

Getting rid of Gmail not enough? Through the same process, Google allows you to delete your Gmail, YouTube, AdSense, and most other Google service accounts all through the same interface. You can pick and choose which pieces of data you want to remove and which ones you want to keep, so if you want to reclaim a big chunk of your privacy from Google, this is the way to do it.

How to delete multiple Google product accounts:

  1. Visit Google’s centralized account page: https://myaccount.google.com
  2. Click the sign-in button in the top right corner.
  3. Sign in using the details for the Gmail account you’re going to delete.
  4. In the topic boxes at the center of the page, look for “Account Preferences”
  5. Click “Delete your account or services”
  6. On the next page, click “Delete Google Account and data”
  7. Enter your password again.
  8. Backup your data before you delete it. See the instructions below for more information.
  9. Check both boxes at the bottom of the screen acknowledging the process.
  10. Click “Delete account”

How to Recover a Deleted Gmail Account

If you already deleted your Gmail account, didn’t keep a backup, and suddenly regret the decision, all might not be lost. Data often remains on Google’s servers for as many as seven days after you remove your account, making it possible to do a quick recovery through a web interface. If more than a week has passed since your deletion, it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to recover anything.

How to recover a deleted Gmail account:

  1. Visit Google’s recovery page: https://accounts.google.com/signin/recovery
  2. Enter the e-mail or phone number used to sign into the account you wish to recover.
  3. Click the “Try to restore account” link.
  4. Enter the password you used with the account.
  5. If too much time hasn’t passed, your account will automatically be restored.

Delete All E-mails instead of Deleting Your Gmail Account

Deleting your entire Gmail account carries one big drawback: your e-mail address will no longer be active. Anyone looking to get in touch with you will need a current e-mail address, and we all know how annoying it can be to make sure every single relevant contact knows you’re changing e-mails.

A nice in-between solution is to simply delete all of your Gmail content but leave the address intact. Your messages won’t be around for advertising scans, and you can check the account every week or so and slowly transfer your contacts over to a new e-mail. Before long you won’t have anything left in Gmail, at which point it’s safe to delete the entire account, if you like.

How to delete all of your Gmail e-mails:

  1. From anywhere in your Gmail account, click on the search box at the top and type “in:anywhere”, without the quotation marks.
  2. Press enter. All of your e-mail will be loaded, unfiltered, and including spam.
  3. Click the down arrow in the small box to the left of the “Refresh” button.
  4. Choose “All”
  5. A note will appear just above your e-mails: “All 100 conversations on this page are selected. Select all ##### conversations in All Mail”
  6. Click the underlined portion of the note to select all of your e-mail.
  7. Click the “Delete” button above your e-mail list.
  8. Click “OK” in the confirmation dialogue.
  9. E-mails sent to the trash will be automatically removed and unrecoverable after 30 days.
  10. If you don’t want to wait 30 days, go to your trash folder by clicking the link on the left nav menu. You may need to click the “more” label to expand the list.
  11. Click the “Empty Trash now” link at the top.
  12. Click “OK” in the confirmation dialogue to clear your deleted e-mails.

With your e-mails removed, there are still a few things you should check in Gmail’s interface to make sure all of your private data has been cleared.

  1. Remove your labels by going to Settings > Labels
  2. Delete alternative and alias accounts by going to Settings > Accounts and Import
  3. Remove your custom filters under Settings > Filters and Blocked Addresses
  4. Clear any forwarding addresses from Settings > Forwarding and POP/IMAP

Backup Your Data Before Deleting Gmail

Removing your data from Google’s servers doesn’t mean you have to lose access to it for good. Google offers a quick and convenient way to create backups of all of your information, including Gmail, Photos, Google Drive, and YouTube. Before you delete your Gmail account, be sure to download a backup and store it on your computer or in a cloud storage service for safe keeping.

How to backup Gmail data:

  1. Click the “backup” link during the deletion process, or go to https://takeout.google.com/settings/takeout
  2. Choose the Google services you want to backup
  3. Click “next”
  4. Select the archive format. A .zip file delivered via e-mail is the most common
  5. Click “Create archive” at the bottom
  6. Google will collect and archive your data
  7. If you chose delivery via e-mail, make sure you retrieve the file from Gmail before deleting your account

Increase Security on Your Gmail Account

Sometimes we’re tied to the e-mail address and service we’re currently using. Businesses often use Gmail as their chosen form of corporate communication. And you have to admit, the service does offer a ton of useful customization features and a wonderful mobile app. There are a few things you can do to help increase security on your Gmail account.

  • Enable HTTPS – Gmail allows you to toggle your connection style between HTTPS, or secure, and standard HTTP. You should always have HTTPS turned on without exception. Make sure “Always use https” is active under Settings > General in your Gmail account.
  • Check account access – Gmail allows users to grant access to their account to other users, a feature largely reserved for families or work environments. If someone gains access to your Gmail for some reason, however, it’s easy for them to keep access to your e-mail without your knowledge. Go to Settings > Accounts and Import and look under “Grant access to your account” to see if any other addresses are listed.
  • Check access authorization – Lots of websites and apps like to request access to Google and Gmail for sign-in and communication purposes. You always have the option of revoking this request when a third party makes it, but sometimes we grant access without thinking about it, then forget to remove it later on. This can lead to some strange security breaches. Visit Google’s permissions page and scroll down the list to see which services have access to your Google and Gmail accounts. Click the ones you want to remove, then click the big “remove” button to revoke access.
  • Monitor your forwarding addresses – Another great Gmail feature is the ability to automatically forward e-mail to other addresses. Again, if someone gains temporary access to your Gmail account, they can set themselves up as a forwarding agent and read everything you write. Visit Settings > Forwarding and POP/IMAP to see which addresses also receive your e-mail. Remove anything that isn’t absolutely necessary.
  • Track account activity – Google keeps detailed logs of all account logins and activity. While this may seem a little creepy at first, it’s actually a fantastic way to monitor your own accounts for suspicious events. Visit Google’s sign-in and security page to see which devices have accessed your Google account, when, and from which location. If anything looks out of place, click the “Secure your account” link at the top of the page to take action.

The Best Alternatives to Gmail

Gmail is a free web-based e-mail service that offers practically unlimited storage and a host of convenient customization and filtering options. You have easy access to the service from browsers and mobile devices, built-in encryption, and two-factor authentication for increased security. Still, with the amount of data going through Google’s servers, coupled with the automated e-mail scanning to deliver advertising content, it’s worth checking into some of the better alternatives to the Gmail service.

ProtonMail – The number one go-to service for private, secure e-mail. ProtonMail is based in the neutral country of Switzerland and uses end-to-end encryption to keep all messages completely private and completely anonymous. It offers easy access through web browsers and mobile apps, is open source, and is also completely free to use at a basic level.

FastMail – An extremely robust paid e-mail service that delivers a solid, safe, and reliable communications experience on your browser and in mobile app form. FastMail doesn’t treat its clients like products, which means your e-mails aren’t scanned or shared with third parties.

Tutanota – Another free e-mail service that focuses on security. Tutanota is open source and offers end to end encryption on all of its e-mails. There’s a full featured web client and mobile apps for both Android and iOS.

Boost Your Privacy in Gmail and Beyond

Most serious breaches of privacy aren’t caused by hackers or malicious ISPs. They’re the result of simple user negligence. Forgetting to log out of your account on public computers, not using a strong password, turning off your mobile device’s unlock pattern, all of these things make your data extremely vulnerable.

  • Enable Google 2-step verification – A lot of services are switching to two-factor authentication for logins, replacing the simple password system with a method that requires an extra step to gain access. Google uses this for Gmail and all of its other products, and if you want to keep your account as secure as possible, make sure it’s turned on. Visit the Google 2-step verification page and click “Get started” at the top.
  • Use a VPN – One of the simplest yet most effective things you can do to increase your online privacy is to use a good paid VPN service. VPNs encrypt everything that leaves your computer, including website requests and e-mails. They also help protect mobile devices while you’re connected to public Wi-Fi, and they prevent ISPs from gathering information about your browsing habits. VPNs are a superb solution to many of the privacy issues facing us today. Get started with a VPN by checking out the best VPNs for Windows, the best VPNs for Mac, and the best VPNs for Linux.
  • Install HTTPS Everywhere – Encryption is the basis of most internet security. Gmail can be configured to use a secure HTTPS connection at all times, but not all websites will do the same. To make sure your data is always encrypted, install the HTTPS Everywhere browser extension. This free plug-in forces many websites to use HTTPS instead of the less secure HTTP protocol.
  • Encrypt your smartphone – Our smartphones carry a ton of private information. If you use Gmail, you likely have the app installed and set to keep you logged in, meaning anyone who grabs your phone can look through your e-mail. To help combat this, encrypt your Android device and encrypt your iPhone by default. You’ll be forced to use a screen lock pattern or password, which is a good idea anyway, but you’ll also scramble the information sitting on your phone so it can’t be picked up by data snoopers.
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