Death is Nature’s way of telling you it’s time to get off the Internet. But when you finally shuffle off this mortal coil, you leave something behind: all your email and other digital assets.
That’s a huge problem not only for the deceased—once you’re on the wrong side of the Great Beyond, there’s no way to delete those incriminating messages—but also any relatives who might want to access your (former) life. And it’s a problem Google’s seeking to solve with the new Inactive Account Manager.
In an April 11 blog posting, Google product manager Andreas Tuerk suggested that Inactive Account Manager wasn’t a “great name” for the product, but maybe the company shouldn’t be so hard on itself: it’s a way better name than, say, Google Death Dashboard.
“You can tell us what to do with your Gmail messages and data from several other Google services if your account becomes inactive for any reason,” Tuerk wrote. If you want all your data deleted after three, six, nine, or 12 months of inactivity, Google Inactive Account Manager will make that happen. It will also send data from various Google services—including Gmail, Google+, YouTube and Drive—to select “trusted” contacts.
“We hope that this new feature will enable you to plan your digital afterlife—in a way that protects your privacy and security—and make life easier for your loved ones after you’re gone,” Tuerk added. The Manager is accessible via the Google Account settings page, and only takes a few minutes to set up.
Over at Forbes, Kashmir Hill brings up an interesting point about the new service: while it could prevent some of the often-inevitable fighting over a departed loved one’s emails, Inactive Account Manager might also run contrary to a Virginia law that gives parents access to their dead offspring’s social networking accounts—provided that the young’un had the foresight to set his or her Google account to “Don’t let anyone see this content” and “Nuke within three months.”
In fact, Inactive Account Manager might do precious little to stop this sort of squabbling over digital assets. As with many things Google, what’s been introduced to make life (and death) simpler could just make it all more complicated.