One of the most common problems that occur when people have an unfortunate accident at a younger age, is that usually that person has done absolutely nothing to set their affairs in order in the unfortunate event of their death. This usually leaves the family – aside from grieving after such a tremendous loss – to also deal with how to manage your final affairs for you. That includes what to do with all of the stuff you’ve accumulated during your life, what to do with your banking accounts and investments, and everything else that makes up a person’s life.
These days, a very big part of that life involves a whole list of online activities and data. More and more people are making use of things like a Picasa web album to store family photos, Google + to post daily life news and events, YouTube to publish both public and private videos, and so much more. In a lifetime of over 20 years, that information can consist of a tremendous volume of private, personal, and sometimes even very important information and history.
If you think about it, through text, images, and videos, you’ve documented your own life through your online activities. In past years, a person’s life might have been documented in written form. A few of those became quite famous for representing an important era in history – journals like that of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anne Frank, and so many others.
What will happen to your documented life when you die? Will it disappear into the digital sea after your accounts become delinquent and get deleted? Is that really what all of your online efforts were about – to disappear into a meaningless heap of deleted bits?
I say no, and Google’s solution that Joshua recently reported on called the Google Inactive Account Manager, can give you the peace of mind that your online information will not go to waste when you’re gone.
Protecting Your Documented Online Life
If you’re anything like me, then you probably have your online life centered in large part around Google products. Whether it’s YouTube, Google Search, Blogger, Google + or anything else offered by Google – the fact remains that Google is now handling the bulk of most of our online lives. This perfectly positions Google as the central place to go if you want to protect your online data.
Google has answered the need for a sort of online “will” with the “Google Inactive Account Manager” service. You can find this service in your Google account settings page, toward the bottom, under the “Account Management” section.
You’ll see some text explaining that you can control what happens to your account once you “stop using Google”. This is a gentle way of saying, “This is how you can control what we do with your stuff when you die.”
If you click on “Learn more and go to setup“, you’ll find yourself on a screen that walks you through each step of setting up your Google “online will”. Google provides several services that you can enact once your account goes inactive – including defining what “inactive” means, and what Google is supposed to do with all of your “stuff”.
The first step is to add phone numbers to your account for receiving an alert once your account goes inactive and the actions you define are about to go into action.
There are two ways you can use this. You can use your own phone number just in case you aren’t dead – maybe you’re off hiking the appalachian trail or something – and you’ll get a warning alert that your online “will” is about to go into action.
Or, you could set this number up to be that of a very close friend or family member that you want alerted to the fact that your Google Inactive Account Manager plan is going into effect. This might also be the same person or people that you want to entrust the management of your online data after you’re gone.
The next step in the inactive account manager plan is to tell Google how long to wait before making the decision that you’re no longer around, and to put your plan into action. The time frame defaults to 3 months.
However, you can extend this out to 6 months, 9 months or a year. If you are planning a very long trip somewhere that will take over 3 months, you might want to make sure to increase this time period so that your inactive account plan doesn’t go into action when you didn’t intend it to.
The most important part of that plan of course, is the next step. This is where you’ll connect up to 10 contacts who you want notified that your Google account has gone inactive. The heart of the Inactive Account Manager feature is the sharing data part – you can save your online life for future generations by having your account data shared out to all of those trusted friends and family.
Click “Add trusted contact“, and either type in the person’s email address or name. If you type the name, Google will look up the name from your list of existing Google Contacts.
To activate the data sharing feature, just check off the box next to “Share my data with this contact“, and then follow the wizard that will take you through selecting which Google products that you want to share data with that contact. What’s kind of cool here is that you can select contacts and products specifically, so for example if you have a friend that you know is brilliant at blogging, you can share your Blogger data with that person. If you know someone that would love to have the photos that you’ve stored on Picasa, you can share your Picasa data with that person.
This is how you can spread your life story and your legacy, but making sure your documented online life lives on even after you’re gone.
And of course, the next step is my favorite feature – the “auto response” email.
This is sort of a surreal “out of office” type message that Google will send to anyone that emails you after your account has gone inactive. You can basically take the time now to write up a deeply thoughtful and meaningful message to everyone for after you’re gone. Once those people email you when you’re gone, they’ll receive your customized “last words” – and it’ll be just like you’re speaking to them from the grave. It’s going to be the last message that they ever receive from you, so make it count!
Finally, you have the option once all of the previous steps have been completed, to entirely delete your account. This means everything. No more Google + account, no more Blogger blog, and no more YouTube videos. It all disappears when you do.
There are pros and cons to doing a total delete. Some people feel that it’s a privacy issue – no one needs to have some account laying around somewhere ready to be hacked and hijacked (I’ve seen this happen to a deceased person’s account before). On the other hand, deleting everything basically wipes your life away from the online world – everything you were and everything you represented online would be gone, at least insofar as it was hosted on a Google product. Basically, the decision to do this is a personal one.
So there you have it, Google’s Inactive Account Manager. It’s basically Google’s version of an online last will and testament. I actually plan to lay this all out for my own account, just in case. You never know what tomorrow brings – why not be prepared?
Do you plan to use the Google Inactive Account Manager? Which features do you think are valuable and which aren’t? Share your own thoughts in the comment section below.
Image credits: Envelope and Last Will via Shutterstock