Commentary

Google Tool Lets People Control Data From Beyond The Grave

Consider it estate planning for the digital age: Google today rolled out a new feature that enables users to plan how their data will be disposed of after they die.

The “Inactive Account Manager” -- which Google acknowledges is “not a great name” -- allows people to tell the search giant how to dispose of their emails, photos and other data associated with accounts no longer in use.

“Not many of us like thinking about death -- especially our own,” the company says on its public policy blog. “But making plans for what happens after you’re gone is really important for the people you leave behind. So today, we’re launching a new feature that makes it easy to tell Google what you want done with your digital assets when you die or can no longer use your account.”

The tool allows people to plan for their so-called “digital afterlife” by arranging for Google to delete their blog posts, photos, videos and other files after their accounts have been inactive for a period of time ranging from three to 12 months. (Users decide whether the timeframe should be three, six, nine or 12 months.)

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If people would rather share their data than have it deleted, they can tell Google to forward some or all of the material to up to 10 contacts. Users also can write a message that will be delivered to contacts with the files. Without this kind of tool, friends and relatives typically must make their case to the service provider -- or the courts -- in order to access emails or other private data from deceased users.

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