For anyone who has experienced the regularity of online networking and creating online content, the question of what happens to your online assets after lengthy inactivity may come up. What if you decide not to use an email address any longer, or what if you pass away suddenly? This topic may be difficult to discuss, but who will protect or delete your sensitive data online when you die?
Google has introduced another breakthrough in Internet technology that addresses this issue: Inactive Account Manager.
Launched earlier this month, the new feature can tell Google what to do with your Gmail, Google Drive, YouTube and Google+ after you die or cannot use your account anymore. You can find it in your Google Account settings page.
Here are Inactive Account Manager’s options for planning your digital afterlife:
• Delete your information after three, six, nine or 12 months of being inactive
• Provide one or more contacts who will receive your data from any or all of the following services: Gmail, Blogger, Contacts, Circles, Drive, Reader, YouTube, Contacts, Google Voice, Picasa Web Albums, +1s, and Pages
This doesn’t mean those selected people will be able to take over your email since they will not receive your passwords, just your data.
The Google account management feature requires a cell phone number so you can be alerted before any irrevocable actions can be made (and probably to make sure you’re dead). You may also receive the warning message through an alternate email address.
Facebook, Twitter, and Google Account Management
Inactive Account Manager gives us a straightforward process to prepare for the event that our accounts become inactive for whatever reason. On the other hand, this brings one issue to mind—what about other websites that contain our precious information? Other services have different procedures to handle posthumous online life actually.
It can be hard for families, friends, and colleagues to cope with losing loved ones if the deceased user’s Facebook account remains, because how can you handle interactions with someone who can no longer be able to log on? While the social network can’t release login information of a deceased person, family members have two options: request removal of the account or ask to memorialize the account. When an account has been memorialized, its features will then include:
- Friends can still post memories on the memorialized timeline, but it depends on the account’s privacy settings
- Memorialized profiles don’t appear on suggestion boxes
- Preventing anyone from logging in and disabling new friends from being accepted
- The deceased person’s content is still available on Facebook and visible to the people it was shared with
- The memorialized account can receive private messages from anyone
Twitter is less personal than Facebook, but it’s still thoughtful to contact Twitter to report a deceased person. Twitter has a relatively complicated way of processing requests for deceased users’ accounts – similar to the previous Google account management system for dead users. Also, there’s only one option, which is deactivating the account.
To process the deactivation, an authorized contact or immediate family member must send Twitter a signed statement, copy of the death certificate, a copy of a government-issued ID, and an optional clipping of a newspaper obituary.
Third Party Resources for Social Media and Google Account Management
There are endless other accounts that could stay afloat even after you depart this life, like your LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Flickr to name a few. While some sites don’t provide services like the latest Google account management tool, there are third party services that let you update, transfer or delete account information in case you – or a loved one – die. Here are some of the finest:
1. Legacy Locker
One of the first ever to offer services in this area, Legacy Locker lets you transfer access to your emails, social media accounts, and blogs to trusted people. There are different pricing plans and a free plan. For zero charge, you can store information of three online assets, have one beneficiary and a legacy letter/goodbye note. The other plan costs US$29.99 per year or a US$299.99 one-time fee, both of which entitles you to unlimited assets, legacy letters, and beneficiaries as well as video upload and document backup.
The service includes prompting the account holder to create a pre-determined password periodically to make sure they’re still alive. If the user fails to enter a password multiple times over a stretch of time, Deathswitch concludes that the person is either critically injured or dead, and then sends out personalized pre-written messages to a list of contacts. Some of the most useful uses for the service include sending final wishes, financial information, passwords, funeral instructions, last words, and love messages. The free plan allows one message to be sent to one recipient via email. For US$19.95 a year, you can email up to 30 messages including file attachments and send them to 10 recipients max. The service is good for bulk messages, but of course you have to shell out.
3. My Digital Afterlife
There are two pricing options: a quarterly payment of $19.92 and a monthly payment of $9.99. Both provide the same services—unlimited assets, unlimited letters, unlimited recipients, and photo and video uploads. The price rates are reasonable considering the service features. You can send heirs and beneficiaries personal letters, passwords, financial information, contact information of important people, a copy of your will, photos, and even a PDF of letters and clippings.
AssetLock brings all the important details of your life together and puts them in one secure place. You can tell the people you leave behind how to utilize your life insurance policies, access your safety deposit box, and settle your estate.
Once you sign in for an account, information you can store include digital copies of documents, emails, final letters, final wishes, passwords, hidden accounts, etc. The Basic plan covers 20 entries and 20MB of storage and costs US$9.95 per year or a US$59.95 lifetime membership fee; the Enhanced plan includes up to 100 entries and 1GB storage, and costs US$29.95 per year or a US$179.95 lifetime membership fee; and the Ultra plan comes with unlimited entries and up to 5GB storage as well as a rate of US$79.95 per year or US$239.95 lifetime membership.
While these third party services don’t necessarily allow Google account management, they certainly are reliable measures of ensuring trusted people get critical data when you pass away. Google’s recent innovation has invited Internet users to create digital wills, and although the topic of death is rather depressing, it pays to be prepared. Consider taking a good look at your Google account history and your presence in social networks, blogs, and other online platforms. You just might want to enable all the convenient digital afterlife services there is.