Google has created an "Inactive Account manager" tool to allow account holders to manage their digital lives, including the availability of their stored photos, videos, emails and more, in the event of death or long inactivity.
The new tool was unveiled in an April 11 post by Andreas Tuerk, a Google product manager, on the Google Data Liberation Blog.
"Not many of us like thinking about death — especially our own," wrote Tuerk. "But making plans for what happens after you’re gone is really important for the people you leave behind. So today, we’re launching a new feature that makes it easy to tell Google what you want done with your digital assets when you die or can no longer use your account."
Using the Inactive Account Manager, which is available through a user's Google settings page, will allow users to tell the company what to do with their Gmail messages and data from several other Google services if the account becomes inactive, whether due to a long period of inactivity or the user's death.
"For example, you can choose to have your data deleted—after three, six, nine or 12 months of inactivity," wrote Tuerk. "Or you can select trusted contacts to receive data from some or all of the following services: +1s; Blogger; Contacts and Circles; Drive; Gmail; Google+ Profiles, Pages and Streams; Picasa Web Albums; Google Voice and YouTube."
Before data deletion would actually occur, a built-in protection would be implemented, where users would first be warned via a text message to a cell phone and an email to a secondary address that was provided by the user, wrote Tuerk.
"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," he wrote.
Google is raising the sensitive but important topic as governmental leaders across the United States have been proposing new laws and protections about what should be done with people's personal data in the event of their deaths.
The issue has also been the focus of a growing number of cases across the nation where family members, friends and significant others grapple to obtain or remove the personal social media, data and other digital accounts of loved ones after their deaths. Various social media Websites have different policies about how they will handle such situations, and the processes are still evolving.
The case of a 16-year-old girl who died in 2012 and whose digital data became the focus of a dispute over access to her social media accounts was highlighted in January in an article in The Wall Street Journal.