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In this article

  • What is retention?
  • Default Drive data retention in Google Workspace
  • How to safeguard Google Drive files using retention rules in Google Vault?
  • How to use eDiscovery to safeguard Google Drive files?
  • Are Google Vault retention and eDiscovery hold ideal data backup solutions?

A Guide to Google Drive Data Retention Policy

6 Dec 2021
12 min read

With over 1 billion users, Google Drive has become one of the most popular file storage and collaboration services used by organizations worldwide. 

Google Drive serves as the default storage space when you create any Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Sites, Jamboard, Maps, and Drawings in your Google Workspace account. 

1. What is retention?

Data retention policies determine how long data will be retained and when the data will be purged when it is no longer needed in an organization.  
Google’s geo-redundancy ensures that users’ data will be kept safe for as long as they have an active Google Workspace license or if a retention policy was applied.  

2. Default Drive data retention in Google Workspace

Google does not immediately purge data from its servers once it is deleted from the app. There is a default retention period set by Google for the data in your Google Drive. 
The retention period varies depending on the type of file deletion. If a user soft deletes a file, then it will remain in the Trash folder for 30 days or until a user deletes it from the folder. After the 30 days, period files in the Trash folder are automatically purged and will not be available for users to recover.  

For a step-by-step guide to recover deleted Google Drive files from trash, click here

But all is not lost yet. Files deleted from Trash are retained for another 25 days by Google and a Google Workspace Administrator can restore them from the Google Admin Console.  
After the 25 days period, the files will be deleted forever from Google. 

To know how a Google Workspace Administrator can recover permanently deleted files from Google Admin Console, Click here.

2.2 Limitations of default data retention in Google Workspace for Google Drive

  • The data retained using the default retention is counted towards your Google Workspace storage quota, and you will need to purchase additional storage if you exceed the limit. Google Workspace provides each user with 15 GB of storage that is shared among Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Photos.

  • Data is automatically deleted forever once the default retention period expires after 30-55 days.

3. Native data retention settings in Google Workspace to safeguard Google Drive files

The advanced licenses of Google Workspace offer an extra layer of native data retention using Google Vault. Administrators can use Google Vault to retain critical business data for longer periods even after it was deleted by a user.
Google Vault can:
  • Retain organizational data indefinitely or for a certain time period

  • Automatically delete organizational data after a certain time

  • Hold, search, and export organizational data for eDiscovery

To know more about what Google Vault is, Vault retention rules, holds, and license requirements, read our in-depth article on Google Vault Fundamentals

3.1 What Google Drive data can be retained using Google Vault?

Google Vault can retain, hold, search, and export most of the file types in Google Drive. Here is a list of items that Vault retention covers and the exceptions in Google Drive.
Items within the scope of retentionItems outside the scope of retention
Google Docs
Linked files
Google Sheets
‘Shared with you’ files from external users
Google Slides 

Google Forms

New Google Sites
Google Drawings
Google Meet recordings & associated chat
Q&A and Polls logs
Jamboard files in users’ Drives
Non-Google files uploaded to Drive
Files in Shared Drive
Linked files and items created by external users that were shared with users in your organization are beyond the scope of Google Vault retention.

What are linked files?

For example, some documents may have links inside that leads to another document or file in the Drive. If the linked document falls within the scope of the retention that you set, then Google Vault will retain them, and you will see the doc in your search query results. But otherwise, Vault will not retain those linked files.

3.2 How to safeguard Google Drive files using retention rules in Google Vault?

Google Workspace administrators can set two types of retention rules for Google Drive files: 
Default retention rules 
Custom retention rules 

3.2.1 Default retention rules

Default retention rules are applied when you need to retain data for a specific time period for a service and are applied to all licenses across your Google Workspace account. There can be only one default retention rule for a particular service and this rule cannot be applied to specific accounts or various time periods.
So, for a particular Google Workspace account, there can be only one default retention rule for Google Drive, and that rule is applied to all licenses in the account.

Create a default retention rule for Google Drive

  • Step 1: Log into Google Vault.

  • Step 2: Click on ‘Retention’

  • Step 3: Select ‘Drive’ from the list of services

  • Step 4: Choose the retention period for the files 

    • Choose the retention period 
    • Enter the number of days 
    • Choose the reference time for the beginning of the retention period 

  • Step 5: If you have set a retention period, then choose what happens to the files after the retention time expires.

Default retention rule
  • Step 6: Click Create. If you have set a retention period Vault will ask you to confirm that you understand the rule's effects. Check the boxes and click ‘Accept’ to create the rule.

3.2.2 Custom retention rules

You create custom retention rules when you need to apply a different retention rule and time period for specific data in your organization.  
For Google Drive, you can set custom retention rules by organizational units and define expiration by creation dates, last modified dates, and date of deletion.  
There is no limit to the number of custom retention rules you can create. For Google Drive, if a Drive item in the trash is subject to multiple retention rules, a moved-to-trash rule supersedes all other retention rules. 

Define a custom retention rule for Google Drive

  • Step 1: Log into Google Vault.

  • Step 2: Navigate to Retention > Custom Rules > Create

Create new retention rule
  • Step 3: Under service select Drive and click on Continue.

  • Step 4: Choose the entity that you want to apply the rule to.  

    • To apply to a Specific Organization unit:  - Select the option and choose the Organizational unit. Learn more about retaining data at an organizational unit level - (Optional) Select the option ‘Include results from shared drives to apply the rules to all the shared drives the accounts in the selected OU are members of.  

    • To apply to all Shared drives, select the ‘All shared drives’ option
    • To apply to a shared drive that a specific account is a member of:  - Type in the account names and click ‘Find’  - Select the shared drives you want the rule to apply to  - Click ‘Add’ 

Choose the entity
  • Step 5: Click Continue

  • Step 6: Define the retention time period. 

    Select the option ‘Indefinitely’ to retain files forever 
    To automatically delete files after a certain time:  - Choose the retention period  - Enter the number of days  - Choose the reference time for the beginning of the retention period 

  • Step 7: If you have set a retention period, then choose what happens to the files after the retention time expires.

 Set retention period
  • Step 8: Click Create. If you have set a retention period Vault will ask you to confirm that you understand the rule's effects. Check the boxes and click ‘Accept’ to create the rule.

3.3 What happens when a Google Drive that is covered by a retention rule gets deleted?

Once a retention rule is applied to a Google Drive file, it cannot be permanently deleted. If a user deletes a file that falls within the scope of the retention rule, it simply gets removed from the user’s account but will be still available in Google Vault for the super administrator.  
Files that are purged after Vault’s retention coverage expires may take about another 15 days to be deleted from Drive. 
Drives files and Sites that are deleted from the trash after the expiration of retention coverage are immediately unavailable in Vault. 
Custom Drive Retention rules in Google Vault can only be applied to files with unique upload/last modified date or among unique users. If there was a clash between two retention rules where the files have the same create/last-modified date, Vault will only consider the rule that was created first. 
Use the ‘Include Shared Drives’ settings to make a rule unique and avoid conflict. If there are two rules with identical retention criteria but one rule has the ‘Include Shared Drive’ feature enabled and the other not, then there will be no conflict.   
In case there are files with multiple retention rules, then the retention rule with the longest retention period will be applied to it.  

3.4 How does retention work for apps that store data in Google Drive?

Jamboard jams and Google Meet recording are by default governed by the Drive retention settings. If you want to retain Meet recording different from the Drive settings, then you can turn on separate retention for Google Meet recordings and this will supersede the Drive retention settings.  

Sites are by default covered by the Sites Retention rule. If you want them to be retained the same way as your Google Drive, you can change the Sites retention settings.  

3.5 How to use eDiscovery to safeguard Google Drive files?

Google Vault offers eDiscovery features to hold, search, and retrieve files stored in Google Drive. Administrators can hold users’ Google Drive data indefinitely for legal or other purposes using Vault. 
To hold Google Drive files, administrators must hold individual accounts or all accounts in an organization.  

To learn how to place your Drive data on hold, read our article ‘Google Vault Fundamentals’.

3.5.1 What all does a hold cover in Google Drive?

Items covered by holdItems not covered by hold
Items created by users
Drive folders
Items directly shared with users
Drive Shortcuts
Items in shared drive directly shared with a user
Items owned and shared by external users
A shared drive member that is not on hold can remove a file from a shared drive that is on hold through other members and this item will no longer be under the hold.

3.5.2 What happens when an item on hold is deleted?

An item that was on hold is still visible to users even after a user or Vault deletes it.

3.5.3 What happens to a deleted shared drive item that was on hold?

If a shared drive was deleted, then the items in that shared drive will still be on hold if a user who is a direct member of the shared drive is on hold.  
If a user who is on hold but is not a direct member of the deleted shared drive had access to a file item in the shared drive, that file alone will be covered by the hold if the user remains on hold.  

To learn how to apply a hold to Google Drive data, read our in-depth article, Google Vault Fundamentals

4. Are Google Vault retention and eDiscovery hold ideal data backup solutions?

To sum it up, no. Google Vault retention and eDiscovery cannot replace a data backup solution. It’s true that the retention and hold features that Google Vault provides can secure your business data from being lost and deleted. But that is only part of the solution.  
Google Vault is a retention service and should not be confused with a backup solution. Even though both retention and backup involve securing data for longer periods or indefinitely there are a few differences.  
One major difference is that a retention solution is only concerned with retaining data while a backup solution offers an easy method to restore this data back into your account.  
Google Vault is a retention solution that was intended to preserve critical business data for legal and litigation purposes. Google Vault should never be a replacement for a backup solution for your Google Drive data. 

To learn more about why retention is not backup, read our in-depth article, “Google Vault’s eDiscovery and Retention Rule vs. SysCloud’s Backup for Google Workspace”. 

Third-party cloud backup solutions like SysCloud are a one-stop solution to your data backup and restore problems. Visit our website to learn more about our backup solution. 

In this article

  • What is retention?
  • Default Drive data retention in Google Workspace
  • How to safeguard Google Drive files using retention rules in Google Vault?
  • How to use eDiscovery to safeguard Google Drive files?
  • Are Google Vault retention and eDiscovery hold ideal data backup solutions?
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