I had a bracing moment a few weeks ago. Taking a break from writing, I dipped into my social networks for a moment and saw something that made me stop cold: My father-in-law was recommended to me as someone I might know and want to connect with. Do I know him? Yes, of course. Do I want to connect with him? Goodness, yes, but that will never happen — he passed away a year and a half ago.
That brings up an important issue: Our lives are increasingly lived online, and as with our affairs in the real world, it may be a good idea to make posthumous arrangements for our data ahead of time.
For good or bad, Facebook makes it rather easy to change a deceased accountholder’s status and memorialize his or her page. Twitter’s process is a little more convoluted — loved ones have to submit documents like copies of birth certificates, drivers licenses, signed statements and/or a newspaper obituary clipping.
As for Google, it just tackled the topic head on with a new feature called “Inactive Account Manager,” now available in the Google Account settings page.
“What should happen to your photos, emails and documents when you stop using your account? Google puts you in control.
You might want your data to be shared with a trusted friend or family member, or, you might want your account to be deleted entirely. There are many situations that might prevent you from accessing or using your Google account. Whatever the reason, we give you the option of deciding what happens to your data.
Using Inactive Account Manager, you can decide if and when your account is treated as inactive, what happens with your data and who is notified.”
Users can choose the Timeout period, or period of inactivity before the account is deemed inactive, of three, six, nine or 12 months. Accountholders will get a notification email or text before the period lapses, to give them ample opportunity to stop the process before it goes any further. If no action is taken, the system notifies any predetermined contacts and, depending on the user settings, may share their Google data with them or delete it.
As for which data, it includes Blogger, Contacts and Circles, Drive, Gmail, Google+ Profiles, Pages and Streams, Picasa Web Albums, Google Voice and YouTube, as well as any of the accountholder’s +1s from across the Internet. Note that this does not include passwords, so your contact(s) won’t be able to send from any of your accounts.
No one likes to think about what happens after we die, but a little preparation can go a long way to allay concerns and make things easier on the loved ones left behind.
Have you made arrangements for your “digital afterlife”? If so, tell us what services you found invaluable in the comments.