Google Inactive Account Manager: Protecting Your Data After You Die

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-04-13 Print this article Print

Google's new Inactive Account Manager will not allow relatives or friends to gain any kind of direct access to the accounts of deceased users.  What the tool does allow is for a user to designate which data can be shared with their designees using fine-grained controls that allow specific content to be shared. The recipient of that content, whether it is photos, files, emails or whatever related to the deceased member's Google accounts, will receive the data in a download but won't be able to access the affected account to retrieve it, according to Google.

The Inactive Account Manager also provides an option to completely delete a user's account after a specified period of inactivity up to one year.

More than a dozen Google services users posted comments about the new tool on the Google blog, with most applauding the move.

"This is so important!" wrote Debra Schroer. "You should be able to [add] something to a genealogy page as well, so that when ancestors are seeking you, they will find about who you were, where you lived, what you liked, etc. Nicely done, really! Bravo!"

Another user, Tom, wrote: "I think this sounds great, but I'm on Google Apps which is not supported. I realize there are some other considerations with Google Apps accounts, but I hope you will find a way to extend this new feature to those users."

Tengo Duende wrote: "This is a truly excellent, sensitive and proactive step. Previous comments do highlight areas where it might be improved but as it has only just been rolled out no doubt it can only improve and mature with input and experience. Full marks to Google for the release of such a forward-looking approach to users' virtual identities. When we now have so much invested in their online lives, it's time that the legacy issues after our physical demise [were] taken seriously."

Another user, ario wrote, "This is more important than a will in some ways. It's an incredible feature that all sites with personal data should provide."

Saul Langsam, a wills and estates attorney in Philadelphia, said that situations like this are already becoming the focus of legal battles concerning the data of deceased persons and that such scenarios will likely increase in the future.

"We have to get up-to-speed on this," said Langsam. "This certainly makes sense because you've got to address this asset, which is people's data. It's always an interesting question about who owns that content."

The issue, he said, is that the law is still evolving about whether such content is owned by the user who posted it, the company (such as Google) that is storing it, or by some other party, such as an Internet provider. "There is going to be an entire area of this that is going to explode," said Langsam. "It is going to focus on the legal arguments about content. It's going to be fertile for litigations for years to come."


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