Gone are the days of handwritten diaries, photo albums with yellowing pages/fading photographs, and boxes of letters from loved ones. Over recent years there’s been a shift for us to store most of our photos, stories and memories online, via various platforms and blogs. While this makes a lot of sense for freeing up storage space in your house, it can cause considerable difficulty for loved ones who are unable to access your online accounts to retrieve those digital assets, in the event of your death. This issue has been gaining some strength over the past couple of years (see our blog post: ‘Digital Death – What happens to your online presence when you die‘ from March 2012), and finally one of the big players, Google, has stepped up to the plate and taken some positive action to address the issue of idle or inaccessible accounts for those who have passed away.
What’s it all about?
Google have introduced a new feature, unimaginatively named ‘Inactive Account Manager‘ that allows users to tell Google what you want done with your digital assets when you die, or no longer use an account.
This new Inactive Account Manager feature can be accessed from your Google Account Settings page. It allows users to choose:
> The length of time after their last account sign-in before it is considered inactive. The chosen period must be between 3 and 12 months.
> Which accounts you would like to have your trusted contact(s) receive data from: +1s; Blogger; Contacts and Circles; Drive; Gmail; Google+ Profiles, Pages and Streams; Picasa Web Albums; Google Voice and YouTube.
> Contact details so that Google can attempt to reach by email or text message prior to that period ending.
> Which of your contacts to notify that you are no longer using that account, and which of them you would like to share your data with, if any.
> Whether your account should be deleted on your behalf.
Google’s Inactive Account Manager
Generally there is no easy way for relatives to access the digital accounts of loved ones after death. Most internet companies handle the after-death data differently. Facebook, for example, requires a deceased person’s account either be shut down or “memorialized” in a way that no other person can post from it or curate it. In the US there has been some high profile cases where parents have had lengthy legal battles over accessing the digital accounts of their child, who died in an accident at the age of 22.
It should be noted that this new Google feature still does not enable users to pass actual control of the accounts – just the data. For example, there is no option that would allow your chosen beneficiary of your account to send Gmail under your name, or curate your Google+ account.
This is a big step in the right direction for managing the growing issue of inactive accounts online. By Google allowing users to take a pro-active approach to their digital profiles. It will be interesting to see if other big platforms begin to address this better themselves.