What happens to your Google account after you die? With a new tool called Inactive Account Manager, you can now decide for yourself.
Inactive Account Manager allows you to set up steps for Google to take if you haven’t accessed your account for a while (However, death isn’t the only case where you might use this tool. Illness or disinterest also could be involved ).
Trusted contacts can access and download your data on various Google services, such as Gmail and YouTube, and an auto-responder can tell people that your account is inactive. You can also delete your account entirely.
This account manager kicks in after an inactivity period of your choosing–three months minimum, one year maximum.
One month before this timeout period begins, you’ll get a warning via text message.
“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,” Product Manager Andreas Tuerk wrote.
Setup is fairly simple—but definitely creepy—with a step-by-step process for setting up trusted contacts and a Gmail auto-response. Once it’s all set up, you can leave Inactive Account Manager disabled if you’re not ready to set the plans in place.
However, the option to delete your account is too confusing as it stands. Google says it can wipe out all your data “once all requested actions have been completed,” but it’s unclear what this means.
How long do trusted contacts have to download your data? What if a trusted contact downloads some data, but not all of it? Can trusted contacts handle the deletion process themselves? It’s all a bit vague, which is a problem since you won’t be around to deal with any issues that come up.
Still, this is a useful tool compared to the Google alternative, which involves having a loved one send Google a copy your death certificate, among other documents, and waiting for months to see if Google will comply.
It’s also one of the first attempts by a major tech company to automate the data-sharing process in the event of death.
Google’s solution puts you in control and lets you decide what data to release, and to whom.
Meanwhile, third-party services like If I Die and DeadSoci.al have gone the spookier route, allowing users to set up messages on Facebook and Twitter, to be sent out posthumously. No such option exists from Google.
Jared Newman has been helping folks make sense of technology for over a decade, writing for PCWorld, TechHive, and elsewhere. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for straightforward tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for saving money on TV service.