Friday, April 12, 2013

Have You Thought About Writing a Digital Will?

It's Time to Write a Will for Your Digital Life
Google's new "digital afterlife" feature feels creepy and morbid, but it's the kind of responsible data control we should embrace for the rest of our Internet selves. With the "Inactive Account Manager"—the sad, emotionless name Google chose for the product—you get to make a will for your Google accounts. Google uses the term "inactive account" to make it less morbid, but that's just a euphemism. Call it what you want, but this is a very necessary set-up for figuring what happens to your private, personal information after you die and all websites with passwords should have something like it. 
Here's how Google's works: Once an account hasn't been in use for a certain amount of time—theoretically because that person is no longer alive—you can have Google share your data with a trusted source or delete it, or both. You get to pick the settings, which include a "time out" period that puts your account in this "inactive mode" after a period of time you select. At that point, Google will notify you via text and e-mail to make sure you really want to do this. Then, at that point, it will either send that data to a select person, delete the account entirely, or both.

The big breakthrough here is that Google lets you plan ahead. Twitter and Facebook both have policies for the accounts of users who die, but they're retroactive. As explained earlier this year after a young rapper turned his account into a suicide note, Twitter will deactivate the account if someone authorized to act on behalf of the estate contacts them. It doesn't give the estate many options: Twitter will keep an account open or delete it forever. 
Maybe those are the only options you really need for Twitter, which most people largely fill with ephemera like jokes and news. But, what about a site like Facebook, which has photos and messages? In addition to the delete-or-keep, Facebook also offers a memorialization option in which the content is preserved and viewable to acquaintances, but the account will no longer accept friend requests or show up in places like "People You May Know" boxes. But, again, this is only for after-the-fact, when a family probably has a lot more on their mind than what to do with a Facebook profile. And then there are all the non-social services with even more important stuff on them, like Dropbox or PayPal.

Plan your digital afterlife with Inactive Account Manager
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Posted by Andreas Tuerk, Product Manager
Not many of us like thinking about death — especially our own. 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 feature is called Inactive Account Manager — not a great name, we know — and you’ll find it on your Google Account settings page. You can tell us what to do with your Gmail messages and data from several other Google services if your account becomes inactive for any reason. 
For example, you can choose to have your data deleted — after three, six, nine or 12 months of inactivity. Or you can select trusted contacts to receive data from some or all of the following services: +1s; Blogger; Contacts and Circles; Drive; Gmail; Google+ Profiles, Pages and Streams; Picasa Web Albums; Google Voice and YouTube. Before our systems take any action, we’ll first warn you by sending a text message to your cellphone and email to the secondary address you’ve provided. 
We hope that this new feature will enable you to plan your digital afterlife — in a way that protects your privacy and security — and make life easier for your loved ones after you’re gone.

[==►  The next post is an extensive but by no means complete list of various end of life considerations regarding hospice and other issues.] 

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