I’m probably not the only one who finds the search giant’s massive efforts to collect as much personal information about us as possible somewhat creepy. But Google’s new feature called “digital afterlife” that let’s you send emails to friends and family after you are dead is just spooky. Additionally, Google will also send you a text message three months after your funeral to inform you that all your accounts are about to be deleted.
“We hope that this new feature will enable you to plan your digital afterlife.”
Google Public Policy Blog
How would you react if you suddenly got an email from a close friend or family member who died several months ago? If you did not know about Google’s “Inactive Account Manager,” I can imagine it would come as shock. However, the new afterlife account manager is just another example on how technology is changing – not only our lives – but also our death.
Reading Google’s explanation on why this seemingly morbid development is being implemented, it actually makes sense.
The tool comes at a time when people are leaving beyond fewer physical artifacts like letters or photographs for loved ones to remember them by. Google users can share access to email and social media from beyond the grave thanks to this new feature that sends out password information if a user has been offline for a long time. The feature sends passwords to trusted contacts if you have been inactive, and provides a way to send on many aspects of your digital life
The new “Inactive Account Manager” is intended to help users manage their “digital afterlife,” said Google in a blog post on Tuesday. The tool works by instructing Google to email passwords to as many as ten “trusted contacts” in the event that a user has not signed in for three or more months.
Alternately, users can tell Google to simply delete the accounts; in either case, users receive a text message before Google takes action. (Just in case you’re not dead, after all…).
This means that you can ensure that loved ones have an easy way to access not just your Gmail account, but other Google services too, like documents in Drive, Blogger accounts, Google voice and Picassa pictures. All of these services are likely to contain information that is of financial or sentimental value to family members.
But not books, music and movies.
Because the new Google tool contains a notable omission: it does not allow users to provide access to the music, books and movies contained in Google Play. The reason is that, like Apple’s iTunes, Google Play customers don’t actually own the items they buy.
As a Google spokesman explains:
“Digital content purchased on Google Play is licensed to the individual account holder personally. These rights end on the death of the account holder, and there is currently no way of assigning them to others after the user’s death.”
The Google feature arrives at a time when property and privacy laws have often failed to keep up with the digital age, leading to conflicts between relatives and social media companies. Last year, for instance, parents unsuccessfully sued Facebook to obtain messages of their dead daughter. Facebook refused on the grounds of federal privacy law.
Well, Google cares just as much about dead people’s privacy as for the living, I guess…
You can find the tool by going to Settings -> Accounts in your Gmail account or by clicking the link in Google blog. Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like:
Finally, a bit of friendly advice: If you are going to use this service, make sure you notify your 10 trusted contacts when you activate it – you won’t risk scaring them to death, would you?
By the way – if learn more about the ultimate fate of your digital books and music anyways, see “3 ways to deal with digital media when you die.”
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