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What happens with the Google Workspace data of people that leave the company?

A lot of questions we often get from customers are about what happens with the G Suite data of people that leave the company. Often, organisations don’t want to loose the data of employees that leave the company. One of the benefits of Google Workspace is that it gives you the ability to easily provision extra users and delete users that have left the company. Most companies even integrate this on- and offboarding procedure with Active Directory through Google Cloud Directory Sync. In this post I’ll explain the best practices of how you can handle this situation in G Suite in different ways with tools like Google Vault, archived user licenses, data exports and the Google Takeout service.

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Google Vault: eDiscovery in G Suite

Before going into the details of what to do with a user’s data when he leaves the company, Google Vault needs a quick explanation. Google Vault gives a company the ability to retain, hold, search, and export data in support of your organisation’s retention and eDiscovery needs. It supports data in Gmail, Chat, Groups, Drive and recordings of Hangouts Meet.

In short, it is ideal to trace potential actions that could harm your company and gives you the ability to hold people (users) accountable. Google Vault is part of G Suite Business and G Suite Enterprise and can also be bought as a separate SKU.

The question that we often receive is: What happens to the data in Google Vault, once the user is deleted? The answer is simple: once the user is deleted, the Vault data is deleted as well.

How to keep the Vault data of an inactive user

For some users, you might want to keep the Vault data, but you don’t want to continue paying the full license price because this user isn’t active anymore.

Well… we have a budget friendly solution which is the Archived User license. When you assign this license to a user, the user’s data will be preserved allowing the organisation to research the user’s data and only pay 3.40 EUR / user / month. This is a lot less than the 10.40 EUR price of the regular G Suite Business license.

Another way to keep the data without paying a single dime

Whenever you delete a G Suite account on the Google Admin console, it will prompt you to transfer the information of this user to another account. At that stage, we advise you to not transfer this information to the manager of that user, because it will mess up the manager’s Google Account.

We do however recommend to create a generic account and transfer the information of all the deleted users to one generic account.

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As you can see in the screenshot on the right, transferring the data doesn’t include Gmail data. The mailbox can however be exported through the Google Takeout service. You can do this by logging into the account of the user and then follow these steps. The mailbox will be exported in an .mbox format, which you can potentially open via a Thunderbird client.

When you have a large organisation, going through the data transfer and exporting the mailbox manually can be a very tedious job. Luckily, this can all be scripted and therefore automated.

Archived license or exporting the data?

Your preference is probably going to lean towards the second option, because it is the cheapest.

We would however advise to go for the first option because it is very tedious to find the information you are looking for when you have manually exported the data. You would first of all need to install Thunderbird, export the mail data and import it into Thunderbird again before you can start searching. This process takes at least a couple of hours depending on the size of the mailbox, whereas with an Archived User license, you can start searching straight away. 

Google Vault is also a mechanism you can use to prove certain actions in court, whereas the manual process will probably not suffice to hold people accountable.

You now know which different actions you can take in G Suite when a user leaves your company and when you want to preserve their data. We recommend using Google Vault or archived licenses for a maximum preservation of the data and ease of use for you as an administrator.

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Need help with transferring the data of someone that leaves your company?
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