How retention works

Use retention rules to control how long data is preserved. You can:

  • Keep data for as long as you need it. If your organization is required to preserve data for a period of time, you can configure Vault to retain it even if users delete messages and files, and then empty their trash.
  • Remove data when you no longer need it. If your organization is required to delete sensitive data after a period of time, you can configure Vault to remove it from user accounts and expunge it from all Google systems.
WARNING: An improperly configured retention rule can cause the immediate and irreversible purging of data from user accounts. Use caution when creating or changing retention rules. We recommend that you test new rules on a small group of users before applying them to your entire organization.

When retention coverage ends, Vault immediately begins to remove affected data. The time it takes to purge expired data varies depending on the type of data. Learn more about how long it takes to remove data after retention expires.

Two types of retention rules

Custom retention rule—Controls how long specific types of data are retained. You can create as many custom rules as your organization needs:

  • Gmail and Groups—you can base custom rules on organizational units, date ranges, or specific search terms. 
  • Drive—you can base custom rules on organizational units and define expiration based on last modified dates (to address staleness) or created dates (to address compliance requirements).
  • Google Chat and classic Hangouts–you can set custom retention rules for organizational units or for all rooms in the domain. You can define expiration based on when messages were sent or last modified.

Default retention rule—Sets a global rule for your entire organization. The default rule applies to data only when a custom rule or a hold doesn't apply.

Important information about retention 

What's the difference between a hold and a retention rule?

Both preserve data in Vault, however, there are important differences:

Holds Retention rules

Holds are typically created in response to​ an investigation or legal issue.

Retention rules are used to proactively control how long data is preserved. 

Holds preserve data indefinitely.

Retention rules preserve data for a specified period.


A hold takes precedence over a retention rule. When a hold is deleted, data is then subject to applicable retention rules

After retention coverage expires, data is removed from all Google systems (unless it is being preserved by a hold)

Only those who have access to a matter can see who and what is on hold.

Only those who have retention rule privileges can manage retention rules.

Removing data from Vault removes the same data from user accounts

Vault is fully integrated with the products it supports. As a result, there's no separate archive. If you create a retention rule that applies to all messages or files, it could potentially delete data that your users expect to keep. For example, if you set a default retention rule to retain all messages for 365 days, and you have no custom rules or holds, Vault deletes every message in your domain that is older than 1 year.

The retention coverage period isn't affected by the date you create a retention rule

The retention coverage period begins:

  • Gmail and Groups—on the day the message is sent (Gmail) or posted (Groups).
  • Drive—either on the day the file was created or the day it was last modified, depending on how you configured the retention rule.
  • Google Chat–on the day the message was sent or was last edited by a user. When a user deletes a message, it has no effect on retention coverage.
Retention coverage periods can be extended by custom retention rules and holds

When the default retention period expires, Vault expunges a message or file only if:

  • It is not being retained by any custom retention rules. Data is always kept as required by the custom rule with the longest retention period. Custom retention rules always take precedence over the default retention rule, even if the custom retention rule is shorter than the default retention rule.
  • It is not subject to a hold. When the hold is removed, retention rules take effect as expected.
Data can remain in Vault after all retention rules expire

The background process that removes data from Google systems keeps data available in Vault for approximately 30 days before it is fully expunged:

  • Messages in a user’s Gmail or posted in Groups when all retention rules expire are immediately removed from the user’s view. However, they remain available to Vault administrators for approximately 30 additional days, during which you can search for, export, or place holds on them. After 30 days, you can no longer retrieve these messages.

  • Messages deleted by users or Group Managers less than 30 days before retention coverage expires are kept as long as necessary to meet the maximum of 30 days. For example, if a user deletes messages and empties them from trash 20 days before the retention coverage expires, you can search for them in Vault for another 10 days. After that time you can no longer retrieve them.

  • Gmail messages that were deleted more than 30 days before the retention coverage expires are immediately expunged at the end of the retention period, and you can’t retrieve them.

  • Files in Drive are expunged up to 15 days after retention coverage expires, and you can’t retrieve them.

  • Google Chat and classic Hangouts messages are kept for 30 additional days after a user or a retention rule removes them from a conversation or a room. The expunge process begins on Day 30 and may take several additional days to complete depending on the number of messages being expunged. 

See removal and expunging scenarios for additional examples of how this works.

Some files stored in Drive are excluded from coverage by Drive retention rules

Some Google Apps store their data in Drive. Because these apps can be adversely affected by unexpected data deletion, they may be excluded from Drive retention rules. Vault supports the following apps:

Product Retention  Notes
Jamboard Covered by Drive rules

Vault only retains jams that have been saved to users' Drives. Unsaved jams are discarded when the Jamboard session ends and are unavailable to Vault.

Google Meet Excluded by default You can enable retention for Google Meet.
Lapses in retention coverage can cause the immediate expunging of of data

Use caution when modifying existing retention rules. Services can immediately expunge unprotected data that users deleted over 30 days ago.

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