Google finally launched a solution for people with “legacy” G Suite Google accounts. After initially threatening to shut down free G Suite accounts if users didn’t start paying for the service, Google has completely backed off. Once users jump through some sign-up hoops, Google will allow their ~16-year-old accounts to continue functioning. You’ll even get to keep your email address.
The saga so far, if you haven’t been following, is that Google has a custom-domain user account service, currently called “Google Workspace” and previously called “G Suite” and “Google Apps.” The service is mostly a normal Google account that lets you use an email that ends in your custom domain name rather than “@gmail.com.” Today this service is aimed at businesses and costs money each month, but that was not always the case. From 2006 to 2012, custom domain Google accounts were free and were even pitched at families as a geeky way to have an online Google identity.
In January, some bean counter at Google apparently noticed this tiny group of longtime users was technically getting a paid service for free and decided this was unacceptable. Google posted an announcement in January declaring these people “Legacy G Suite users” and basically told them, “Pay up or lose your account.” These users signed up for a free Google service and stored data on it for as long as 16 years, and there were no indications it would ever be charged. Google held this decade-plus of user data hostage, telling users to start paying business rates for Workspace or face an account shutdown.
A week later, after the inevitable public outcry, Google relented somewhat and said vaguely that it would eventually provide “an option for you to move your non-Google Workspace paid content and most of your data to a no-cost option.” Saying you’ll be able to keep “most of your data” that you’ve been accumulating for 16 years is a rather alarming statement. Google’s one bit of specifics in January was that “this new option won’t include premium features like custom email,” so you’d have to stop hosting your email with Google, and you’d presumably have to go through some wild Google account conversion process. It then let these users anxiously flap in the wind, with no further details, for six months.
In May, Google finally told these users what would happen to their accounts. The new support page says, “For individuals and families using your account for non-commercial purposes, you can continue using the G Suite legacy free edition and opt out of the transition to Google Workspace.” The link for that is here or in your G Suite admin panel. You’ll need to confirm that your G Suite account is for personal use, and not business use, because businesses are still expected to pay for Workspace. If you already bent to Google’s will and started paying for Workspace because of the January announcement, Google says you should contact support.
The biggest news from this latest announcement is that Google has decided against taking people’s custom email away. A second support page says, “You can continue using your custom domain with Gmail, retain access to no-cost Google services such as Google Drive and Google Meet, and keep your purchases and data.” It now sounds like there will be no changes to your account, provided you click through the “self-transition” screen before the deadline.
The deadline to opt out of an account shutdown, which has changed several times now, is June 27, 2022. If you don’t complete this opt-out by June 27, you will be automatically billed for Workspace. If you don’t have a card on file and don’t opt out, your account will be suspended on August 1 and shut down.
The automatic enrollment and billing, without explicit user consent, is one of the wilder parts of this story. If you don’t closely follow the tech news scene, there’s a good chance you won’t know this is coming, and you will either suddenly be billed without your consent or find that your Google account has suddenly stopped working.
For a company whose key business pillar is convincing users to store vast amounts of data on its servers, playing games like this is a bizarre decision. At least it came to a reasonable conclusion.
This story originally appeared on Ars Technica.