Google's Inactive Account Manager and your Digital Heir
Google is involved in every part of our online lives. We use Google as a search engine. We use it for directions. We use it for e-mail. We use it is for blogging. If you are reading this, odds are you use Google to get here. Google has become such a part of our collective culture that that the word “google” in included in Miriam Webster’s Dictionary and other languages have incorporated it into their own vocabulary. The other day my friends and I were sitting at a dinner table trying to figure out who was starring a recently released movie. After a few minutes of discussion, someone decided to quickly google the cast list. Question answered. Problem solved. I can no longer even imagine a world where I do not have access to my every query, every stray thought, every question…And now, now Google has taken its’ hold over us to the next level…
Thanks to Google’s new “Inactive Account Manager,” a name the company admits isn’t great, you can now control your Google accounts from beyond the grave. Creepy, right? It gets better…
You can now direct Google to delete your data/account activity after 3, 6, 9 or 12 months of activity. OR, if you are feeling especially sentimental about your online life, you can set your account to e-mail all of your information to up to ten of your trusted contacts. Before Google will take any action to change your account status, it will e-mail any other accounts you have on file and/or send you a text message. If you elect to pass on your digital legacy to a loved one, you can decide what they get – your documents, emails, Youtube account, blog, Picasa photos, etc. Remember, Google is more than just a search engine. For many of us, it’s the one stop shop for our online lives…The Inactive Account Manager will also allow you to create an automatically generated e-mail, so that if someone e-mails your inactive account, they will automatically receive your message. When you write the message, you can set whether you want it to go to anyone who e-mails you or only those in your contact list.
I see a lot of different individual outcomes occurring as a result of this new feature. Some people may set it up, forget about it, stop using Google and accidently get all of their data e-mailed to their old college roommate. Others may prompt Google to delete their data after 3 months, ignore Google’s warnings and then lose all of their info. The most touching possibility though is that 3, 6, or even 12 months from losing a loved one, someone receives an e-mail containing photos, documents and videos left to them a long time ago and for the rest of their day…that person feels the touch of someone they lost.
Google is by no means the first company to consider what should happen to our online lives once our actual lives are over. Facebook will memorialize the account of a deceased person. In order to have an account memorialized, a family member of the deceased must submit a request and provide some proof of death (ie link to obit). Once an account is memorialized, no one can log into it, it can’t accept new friends, and won’t appear People You Know. Friends will still be able to send private messages to a memorialized account. Twitter will also work with the estate manager to disable the account of the deceased.
The fact that the heavy hitters in the online community are acknowledging the need for a way to deal with our digital briefcases is truly telling. You will those things that matter to you. Important things. Valuable things. Our online lives are becoming an ever increasing portion of our actual lives and all of those years of e-mails, photos, videos, documents, blogs, etc mean something to us. Just as they will likely mean something to our loved ones.