What will happen to your Gmail, YouTube, Google Drive and Google+ accounts after you die? That’s probably not something you really want to think about, but as more and more of our data now lives online, that’s sadly a question that comes up with some regularity. Today, Google is launching its Inactive Account Manager on the Google Account settings page, which sets out to set up a system that allows you to tell Google “what you want done with your digital assets when you die or can no longer use your account.”
With the Inactive Account Manager, you can set up a very straightforward procedure for what should happen to your data after your account becomes inactive “for any reason.”
First, you set up a timeout period (three, six, nine or twelve months of inactivity). After that, you can either have all of your data deleted, or you can select a number of trusted contact who can receive your data from a set of Google services.
Currently, you can choose to send your data from Blogger, Contacts and Circles, Drive, Gmail, Google+ Profiles, Pages and Streams, Picasa Web Albums, Google Voice and YouTube, as well as your +1s from across the web to whoever you choose to receive it after your timeout period. This doesn’t mean people will be able to send email from your accounts – they are not getting your passwords, after all. Just your data.
Of course, Google will first try to contact you by email (to your secondary address) and text message to ensure that you are really dead and didn’t just switch to Bing and Outlook.com.
This system opens up an interesting question: what happens when you have told the system to delete all of your data and there is a family member or other interested party who wants access to your account? A Google spokesperson told us that “when there’s a conflict, we will honor the preference you’ve made in Inactive Account Manager to the extent permitted by law.”
Other online services have different ways of dealing with this situation. Facebook, for example, says it can’t provide others with the login information for a deceased user’s account, but it does have a procedure in place for “memorializing” accounts. Twitter has a slightly more complicated system that’s more akin to how Gmail used to handle the accounts of deceased users and which involves sending copies of birth certificates, drivers licenses and signed statements (and an optional clipping of a newspaper obituary) to Twitter.