Late yesterday, Google unveiled the not-so-snappily-titled Inactive Account Manager, as covered by BBC News and its own Public Policy blog. This lets you decide what happens to your Google Account when it ceases to become active – i.e. you stop logging in to it.
The reason for inactivity could, of course, be your death. It may seem morbid to think about it, but when you die, what will happen to all of the data you’ve saved on various web sites, like Google?
Google is one of the first companies to come up with an answer, and let users decide on their account’s destiny after their death. By default, nothing will happen, and so you need to log into your Google Account settings to enable it. You can then set a timeout period, after which Google can assume that your account is inactive. I’ve gone for three months, as although I’m cutting down my usage of Google products, I still use something Google-related every day. A month before the end of the timeout (so, in my case, after two months of inactivity), Google will first try to contact you using alternative means – a different email address or by phone.
If, after the timeout period has elapsed, your account remains inactive, you can then choose to do one of two things:
- Delete the account. Everything in your Google Account will be deleted, as if you had manually decided to close your account.
- Allow a trusted person access to the account. You can add up to 10 people, who will be notified that your Google Account is inactive, and who can then access all or part of your data.
In my case, I went for the second option, and granted access to Christine. After all, I am due to marry her in a little over three weeks’ time. You can also set an auto-responder in Gmail to state that the account is now closed, with a personalised message. I haven’t yet enabled this as I’m not sure what to write – after all, how would you feel if you emailed somebody without knowing they had died and received an automated message ‘from beyond the grave’, as it were?
Despite everything, and my unease about using their products in case they get closed down (yes, I’m still bitter about Google Reader), I’m pleased that Google has taken the lead here. I hope that this is an example that others will follow – especially the likes of Apple, Microsoft and Yahoo! where it is possible for a user to accumulate a lot of data over their lifetimes.