Your digital after life: Does Google’s Inactive Account Manager offer more control?

There has been a lot of discussion and controversy over the last few years about what happens to your digital assets when you die.

Earlier this week, Google took a stab at solving this issue for its users when it announced the launch of its Inactive Account Manager.  This is a system that enables you to tell Google “what you want done with your digital assets when you die or can no longer use your account.”

First, using Inactive Account Manager, you can tell Google when you want your account to be treated as inactive and “time out”.  You can choose from three, six, nine or twelve months.  At the end of that period, Google will try to contact you by text or secondary email to be sure you really meant to “time out”.

Second, you can add up to ten friends or family members who should be notified that your account is inactive.  The assumption is that you’re deceased if you have let your account go inactive.  However, hopefully, if you’re just traveling around the world and don’t have access to email or you’ve decided to hibernate for a year and not go online, one of your friends or family members will let Google know.

What happens when your account becomes inactive?  You can choose to share your data with one or more of those friends or family members OR you can instruct Google to delete your account.  In that case, all associated data will be deleted including things such as your publicly shared YouTube videos, Google+ posts or blogs on Blogger.

With the new Inactive Account Manager, Google thinks it will avoid some of the conflicts that occur today when relatives of the deceased want access to their data and, in many cases, can’t get it.  With Inactive Account Manager, you will designate what happens to the data.  If you want a family member to get it, you indicate the data you want shared and with whom.

But what if your wishes conflict with those of a  family member or close friend?  According to a Google spokesperson, “we will honor the preference you’ve made in Inactive Account Manager to the extent permitted by law.”

We wondered what an attorney would think of Google’s new tool and contacted Daniel I. Spector, Esq., a lawyer with Spector Weir, LLP in Sacramento, CA.  According to Dan, “It’s a nifty first attempt at dealing with this tricky issue, but I believe the solution is ahead of the law.  The information in one’s account is an asset ” and “the law wisely requires certain steps to be taken before a person can…..take possession of a dead person’s assets.”  Someone who is appointed the executor or trustee of the estate must have their appointment recognized by the court and must follow set procedures for identifying and distributing assets.  They can’t arbitrarily be given to a friend or relative without going through the legal process.  Someday the law will catch up with what Google wants to do but it’s not there yet.

For more information about digital assets and the way companies like Facebook and Twitter handle them after someone has died, go to http://diesmart.com.  You can also find information there about probate and what it means.

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