Google Allows Users To Manage Personal Data After They’re Dead

New Inactive Account Manager works as a will for digital content

Google has launched a new feature that allows users to stay in control of their data, even after death.

The new tool called Inactive Account Manager works as a sort of digital will, helping relatives and friends get access and manage information left behind by the deceased. It currently works with Google+, YouTube, Blogger and some other services.

Digital afterlife

Anyone who has ever been online is likely to leave traces that will survive long after they die. But who owns this information? Should it remain on the network as a digital tombstone, or be erased forever?

ElnurGoogle thinks these decisions should be made by the author of the data, preferably while they are still alive. So the company has launched Inactive Account Manager, the tool that surrenders control of the account to a different user if it “becomes inactive for any reason”. The scheme obviously covers issues like paralysis or senility which would make managing an account difficult.

Users can choose to delete their data after three to 12 months of inactivity, or transfer the ownership to someone they trust. The products supporting the feature include Google+, YouTube, Blogger, Gmail, Google Drive, Picasa Web Albums and others. The Inactive Account Manager can be found on the ‘settings’ page.

At the moment, Google Play store, which sells and stores books, music, films and apps is absent from the list, which means Android enthusiasts will not be able to leave a proper digital inheritance.

Before the system takes over the account, owners will be warned with a text message and an e-mail. The new feature fits with the idea that people should have the “right to be forgotten”, proposed by the European Commission as part of the data protection regulation.

“We hope that this new feature will enable you to plan your digital afterlife — in a way that protects your privacy and security — and makes life easier for your loved ones after you’re gone,” wrote Andreas Tuerk, product manager at Google, on the Public Policy blog.

“Of course, it’s natural for consumers to be nervous about whose hands their data falls into after they meet their maker,” commented Mark Dunleavy, managing director at Informatica UK. “But, in today’s information economy, as we expose more and more personal information across a growing number of places, we have to accept that we’re going to leave a digital footprint behind after we’re gone. It will be up to businesses and consumers to work together in order to ensure this footprint is accessed and protected in an appropriate way.”

The idea of helping users manage their data from beyond the grave is not new. Websites like PlannedDeparture have been offering similar service for a while, although for a fee.

Meanwhile on Facebook, friends and relatives can already request a profile to be ‘memorialized’ through a form in its help section. Once the request is approved by the company, the account’s privacy is restricted to friends and certain sensitive information is removed. The profile and wall then remain active for friends to post condolences.

Close family members can also request to delete a Facebook account. The social network has previously said that in the future, it plans to offer deceased user’s data as a download, when presented with proper authorisation.

Twitter established a policy governing information ownership after the author has gone to meet their maker, way back in 2010. It allows friends and family to request cancellation of the inactive account, and download all of the public tweets.

Luckily, Margaret Thatcher’s data is still in the public domain. What do you know about the dead former Prime Minister and the technology of the 1980s? Take our quiz!