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No, YouTube Is Not Deleting Old Videos

On Tuesday, Google announced an update to its policy on inactive accounts, explaining that starting in December, the data on accounts that have been inactive for at least two years will be subject to deletion. In a statement, the company said the move was a safety measure. “Our internal analysis shows abandoned accounts are at least 10x less likely than active accounts to have 2-step verification set up. Meaning, these accounts are often vulnerable.”

Nonetheless, the announcement set off alarm bells online, as many wondered if the change would impact the troves of music uploaded to YouTube, much of which is otherwise unavailable digitally. A representative from Google clarified to Rolling Stone that the policy update does not include plans to delete accounts with YouTube videos. 

The small panic over the announcement highlighted a growing fear that large swaths of the internet might not be as permanent as we once believed. Earlier this month, Twitter CEO Elon Musk announced that the company was “purging accounts that have had no activity at all for several years.” Almost immediately, users spoke out about how they still frequently visited the pages of deceased loved ones. Some called for the preservation of influential figures like A$AP Yams. Similarly, in 2019, the company’s previous leadership had to reverse course on an announcement that inactive accounts would be deleted after six months. The outcry from users was so fierce Twitter formally announced that it’d allow users to memorialize loved ones on the service permanently.

Musk’s reversal of that decision came months after rap fans confronted a different kind of online impermanence. Earlier this year, mixtape platform DatPiff was rumored to be shut down, and legendary online music service LiveMixtapes, which served as the backbone of the so-called “Blog Era,” announced revamped offerings in response to the growing fear that a large chunk of rap history might vanish for good.  


Fans have good reason to worry. In 2019, Myspace famously lost all of the music uploaded to the service before 2015 — an estimated 50 million songs — as a result of an error during a server migration. Last month, The Internet Archive announced it had recovered around a half-million of those tracks. Specifically, songs uploaded to Myspace between 2008 and 2010. The description for the trove of music, titled “The Myspace Dragon Hoard (2008-2010),” says the songs were uncovered thanks to an “anonymous academic study conducted between 2008 and 2010.” The researchers were studying music networks and happened to collect 1.3 terabytes worth of tracks from Myspace and host it on a separate server. A lucky save, but one that accounts for less than one percent of the music lost on the service. 

For now, YouTube is more or less safe. The site is host to more than 800 million videos and is as close to a living archive as exists on the internet. There are rarities from artists that never were released on streaming platforms, albums only released on vinyl, uploaded to the web thanks to an audiophile good samaritan, and countless early demos from would-be stars. Still, the sudden changes taking place within platforms that control how we find and listen to music leave an unnerving sense that much of our existence online is living on borrowed time. 

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