17/04/2013 08:40 BST | Updated 15/06/2013 06:12 BST

Your Digital Will - Google's Inactive Account Manager for Your Digital Footprint After Death

Google has presented a new product that plans your digital after-life, called Google InActive Account Manager. Think Digital Will or Death Switch. The service allows the users to instruct Google to delete personal data and transfer files to designated recipients, if the users wants them preserved for posterity.


This is a class of service called managing your data after death that has been talked about a lot in relation to our Digital Footprints. It is interesting that one of the largest players has done something about it and does highlight the importance of managing digital assets after death and is an attempt to solve a real (perceived) problem. There is a host of companies (Legacy Locker, Cirrus, Death Switch, Perpetu, AfterSteps, The Digital Beyond, Social Safe to name a just a few) who are willing to charge for this service and given that this is Google only data, a motivated user will still need something for all your other services and digital assets. You may remember the Bruce WIllis iTunes saga about gifting music or the Amazon eBook problem about selling your digital books and the licence issues - which confirm that digital asset/data after-life management is a problem.

The design of this Google service allows the user to set a time period of inactivity of 3,6,9 or 12 months, after which Google kicks in and tries to contact people the user has selected. The default no response is eventually to delete the users personal data and if requested send to someone. It is a starter with a few issues that need to be addressed at some point. Like many other services the same questions keep coming up.

  • How is this compliant with the laws an executor or trustee is required to follow at death, by country? Probably most people on your list are not your executor.
  • What happens if your digital assets are part of the estate and who deals with the conflict between the executors of the estate and the nominees? (think music or video)?
  • What happens if there is data in there that is subject to a court order?
  • What happens if you have several accounts?
  • What happens when you change name?
  • What happens if the you become incapacitated for longer than your period, it becomes deleted and how would you re-establish ownership of your accounts
  • Is the period of waiting 12 months post death to access someone's data to long as you have no idea what was time critical or important to be actioned?
  • Do those you instruct know what will happen and why? What happens in the prefect storm where everyone has changed contact details?
  • Can I log in and do this (set up Inactive Account) to someone's account without them knowing - should it require a higher level of security?
  • Why not just save your passwords and put them on file (however allowing someone else to pretend to be you is also illegal !)
  • How many people actually care?

Overall dealing with personal Data and digital assets after death is not an easy problem to solve and we are only just starting on the journey, but along with Data Portability (Export My Data ideals) I am delighted that we are talking about it, trialing ideas and testing what works as raising questions why not do something is no good reason not to try.

The cynical view might be that this part of Google's CSR, green energy requirement to remove old data and get energy costs down....but too small.