What happens to your data when you die?
At some point in their lives, most people take a little time to figure out who should get their house, their car, their money, and their heirlooms when they’re gone. But in an age where some of our most personal assets live online—our emails, our photos, our social-media identities—few of us stop to think about who will have control over this information. In many cases, unless you specify otherwise, it simply lives on in the cloud indefinitely. That can result in awkward situations when, say, your friend sees your name pop up in a Facebook ad for a product you once “liked.”
Facebook has addressed the problem of the digital afterlife with options for relatives to “memorialize” an account once its owner has died. On Thursday, Google announced a process that lets you plan for that eventuality yourself, while you’re still alive. It’s called Inactive Account Manager, which sounds a bit impersonal, but is admittedly less blunt than the obvious alternative, “Google Death.”
The feature allows you to have your account deleted after it has been inactive for a specified amount of time, from three months to a year. That will wipe clean your YouTube videos, Google+ posts, Google Drive files, emails, and all the rest. Or you can have the data sent to one or more trusted relatives or friends. Before that happens, though, Google will try to contact you via text message and secondary email to make sure you aren’t just hibernating.
Google has more on the new feature in a blog post, and you can set it up for yourself here. Alternatively, you can sit back and hope that Google’s new director of engineering turns out to be right about the singularity.