Introduction to Google Vault for Businesses

Introduction to Google Vault for Businesses

Google Workspace offers Google Vault for business, enterprise, and education. You have the ability to access data even when it has been deleted and enable eDiscovery in legal matters and investigations, so you always have an audit trail

catherine heath

September 27, 2023

8 mins read

Many businesses are using Google Workspace for productivity and communication purposes. A big advantage of Google Workspace is that it operates through the cloud, and is a fantastic tool when it comes to adding new users, managing your users, and removing them from your workspace when they leave. 

But what happens to all that data when a user leaves the organization? For your legal and compliance team, there may come a time when your business or school needs to review the data from the apps that your user has been using in their time with you.

While users can have their access revoked to Google Workspace, Vault gives you continued oversight of their data even when they have left the organization.

That’s why Google Workspace offers Google Vault for business, enterprise and education. You have the ability to access data even when it has been deleted and enable eDiscovery in legal matters and investigations, so you always have an audit trail. 

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For many businesses using productivity and communication tools, Vault is absolutely essential. 

What is a Google Vault?

According to Google: 

“Vault is an information governance and eDiscovery tool for Google Workspace. With Vault, you can retain, hold, search, and export users’ Google Workspace data.”

Using Vault, you can track and review your users’ usage of Google Workspace apps, even when data has been deleted. Vault has been designed for organizations that need to preserve data for a set period of time for government and compliance, and potentially use it to settle disputes. 

You can use Vault for the following data: 

  • Gmail messages
  • Drive files
  • Google Chat messages (history turned on)
  • Google Meet recordings and associated chat, Q&A, and polls logs
  • Google Groups messages
  • Google Voice for Google Workspace text messages, voicemails and their transcripts, and call logs
  • new Google Sites
  • Classic Hangouts messages (history turned on)

This means that if you want to view something like an email message that has been deleted, you can do it using Vault. If you want Vault to work, instead of deleting a user you must suspend their account so they can no longer use it. 

Access to Vault is only available to selected users with administrative privileges, so your data is always protected. Vault can’t be used as a backup for your data, so it’s not a way to recover files when they have been lost. Vault is only meant for your legal and compliance team to access certain files for data trails. 

As the name suggests, Vault is a storage place for your data should you need to view and export it for legal reasons. 

Why use Google Vault? 

Organizations need to use Google Vault to access their data in case of a legal or civil dispute. Without Google Vault, data that your users delete is lost forever and is therefore not available to your legal team should they need it. 

Another main usage of Google Vault is being able to search through large amounts of data that is stored in the long-term using Vault’s advanced search capabilities. You can narrow or widen the search parameters, and then export your data in a form that is suitable for your legal team.

Vault reduces the risk of using Google Workspace for work purposes and gives organizations the ability to access important data should they need it. Although Workspace admins can revoke access to Google Workspace at any time, Vault allows you to recover data that has been deleted. 

The main advantage of Vault is that it is included in Google Workspace business plans at no extra cost. 

How does Google Vault work? 

Google Vault works by providing a particular data retention process. 

  • Retain: retaining your data means holding onto it for a period of retention in case you need to access it later. 
  • Hold: you might want to place a ‘hold’ on your data to prevent anyone from deleting it, even if the period of retention passes. 
  • Search: search across your Google apps for a specific document, message or chat that you might want to use in legal proceedings. 
  • Export: export your data as a file to be used by your legal team or any other relevant individual. 
  • Audit: the audit trail shows you every action that your user took within Google Workspace which you might need to show evidence for in legal proceedings. 

Since Google Vault works in this very standardized way, it is compliant with information governance and can be used to both preserve data and delete sensitive data after a set period of time. 

Only privileged users within your Google Workspace can have access to Vault, so it shouldn’t disrupt your regular users’ ways of working. 

Does Google Vault still exist?

Google Vault definitely still exists although not for every user on a Google account. Google Workspace provides ways for administrators to access Google Vault and grant privileges for other users who need to use it. 

It was launched in 2012 by Google, with an update in 2014 with the option to search Google Drive files. If you have been using a personal Google Workspace account, it is likely you may never have encountered Vault since it can only be included with an extra license. 

How do I access my Google Vault?

You can access Vault in several ways:

Method 1: 

Navigate to Apps > Google Workspace > Google Vault – select the URL.

Method 2: 

Visit the URL https://vault.google.com.

Method 3: 

Click the waffle Icon which you can find in the upper right-hand corner of your admin console (this should have been enabled by your domain admin).

Bear in mind that not everyone will be able to access Google Vault, either because you are not an admin or because Vault is not included in your Google Workspace plan. You can purchase additional licences of Vault for $5 per user per month. 

What are the cons of Google Vault?

Google Vault doesn’t exactly have cons but you can’t use it as a disaster recovery tool. This means that if you lose your data for any reason, Vault isn’t a way for you to restore it. So if a user deletes something and empties their trash, they can’t approach an admin to help them find a file again. 

In order for Google Vault to work effectively, you have to suspend users rather than deleting them from your Google Workspace. This means it’s quite hard to control the number of users that are included in your Google Workspace account, which means costs could become quite difficult to manage. 

Some users are concerned about the privacy implications for Google Vault, since the Vault even saves unsent drafts from users and makes them visible to the organization. This means that even if you composed but didn’t send an email, your employer will still be able to view it when they search Vault. 

Google Vault is a fantastically powerful tool but should be viewed with some caution, ensuring that employees are aware that Vault is turned on for Google Workspace. 

What is Google Workspace eDiscovery?

Google Workspace eDiscovery is the process of using Vault to seek and find information in an electronic format. Organizations would usually use eDiscovery when dealing with legal matters and investigations. It means searching for, holding and exporting data that you might need for legal purposes. 

Vault has been designed to support the first steps of the eDiscovery process as put forward by the Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM): 

  • Identification – the ability to search for relevant information by user account, organizational unit, date, or keyword, including using Boolean searches. No data is off-limits in your Google Workspace account when using Vault, as long as the user account has Vault enabled. 
  • Preservation – in order to preserve data for an unspecified length of time, you can put a hold on the accounts, organizational units, and groups, which are rules that prevent data being deleted. 
  • Collection – data must then be exported for processing and analysis, including a copy of the data that matches your search terms, metadata relating to the organization’s individual users and evidence that the exported data matches the data held on Google’s servers. 

So eDiscovery is the specific process that legal teams use to gather information in an electronic format for a legal matter. Google Workspace spaces enables this process by giving organizations access to data. 

How much does Google Vault cost?

Google Vault is included with the Business and Enterprise editions of Google Workspace so you won’t need to pay extra for Vault. The standard license fee that you pay for each user on a monthly or yearly basis will enable you to use Vault. 

If you are using a plan that doesn’t include Google Vault, you can purchase an add-on for an extra $5 a month. Note that if you miss your payments for Google Vault then your license will be terminated and your data will be lost because retention rules are no longer applied. 

If you upgrade your Google Workspace account to an edition that automatically licenses all of your users for Vault, then you must be careful to avoid deleting important data. 

Do you have to pay for Google Vault?

You have to pay for Google Vault in the same way you would pay for anything in Google Workspace, which is a monthly or annual license fee per user. Technically Google Vault is included in paid plans for business and enterprise, and you will never have access to the data from any of your user’s personal accounts. 

When you start paying for Google Vault, you will only have access to data that starts being saved after you turn your new retention rules on. Vault is not automatically turned on when you begin subscribing to an eligible Google Workspace plan – you have to set up your retention rules before you can begin to retain data. 

Does Google Vault keep deleted Drive files?

The whole purpose is to keep all your data in Vault, even if it has been deleted by users. This means the owner of the Google Workspace account for an organization always has access to deleted Drive files in the Vault, which can be searched and exported if needed. The individual user won’t be able to access the file again. 

Google Vault was updated to include Drive in 2014 so that means organizations now have access to the stored Drive files of their users. 

What is eDiscovery and retention in Google Workspace?

Google Vault is a retention and eDiscovery tool for Google Workspace. This means you can use Vault to archive large amounts of data which you can later search and export for the purpose of legal matters. As we’ve already discussed, eDiscovery is the process of searching and using electronic files as evidence in a dispute, which must be retained through Vault and exported in a compliant manner. 

So Google Vault is Google’s tool that enables eDiscovery and retention on all the data that is amassed by users of your Google Workspace account. Google Vault would prevent rogue employees from deleting their emails from Google’s servers when they leave the organization in case it is needed to settle a dispute, for example. 

If you don’t retain and export your data in a compliant way this could threaten your chances of reaching an effective resolution. 

Is Google Workspace HIPAA compliant?

Not all of Google Workspace’s products are compliant with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). Google Workspace is characterized by Google as being able to support HIPAA compliance, as long as the customer signs a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with Google. 

Google Vault is included under the list of apps within Google that are compliant with HIPAA, but you must be approved by Google before using their products to handle Protected Health Information (PHI). 

Before using Google Workspace you must determine whether you are subject to HIPAA requirements or you risk being in breach of the law. 

What is the difference between Google Vault and Takeout?

Google Takeout is a data export tool which comes as part of Google Workspace, and can be used as a way to manually backup your users’ email data. Google Vault is intended more for archiving rather than backup, so these tools serve fundamentally different purposes. Google Takeout backs up your emails locally every thirty days, giving you some option to restore emails that have been deleted or lost. 

So Google Takeout is specifically for backing up emails while Google Vault archives all of your data for all supported Google Apps. 

How do I recover my Google Vault?

Once your data has been deleted in Google Vault, it cannot be recovered. You can instruct Vault to retain your data for a set period of time, or indefinitely, but after it has been deleted the data is lost. Vault is not intended as a backup and recovery service for your data, but rather as a tool for retention and eDiscovery should the need arise. 

Final remarks

Organizations turn to Google Workspace because it gives them much more oversight of the activities of their employees. Google Workspace functions by keeping a record of all the data that is ever stored by Google Workspace and keeping it for a specified length of time. This makes it much easier to find the information your organization needs in case there is ever a dispute. 

Even very small businesses will find that Google Workspace gives them access to many of the tools which they need to function effectively, one of which is Google Vault. Google Vault is designed specifically for legal purposes and not as a general backup of your data. 

Google Vault is attractive because only administrators and users with privileges can access your data. Vault is compliant with the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) by handling and managing your data in appropriate ways. In this way, Vault helps make Google Workspace more suitable for businesses handling user data. 

When using Google Workspace for business, organizations must ensure that they have sufficient control over their data so they can be accountable to their stakeholders and customers. 

catherine heath

Catherine is a content writer and community builder for creative and ethical companies. She often writes case studies, help documentation and articles about customer support. Her writing has helped businesses to attract curious audiences and transform them into loyal advocates. You can find more of her work at https://awaywithwords.co.

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