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Before death, Google helps you get your digital affairs in order

April 11, 2013|By Jessica Guynn
  • Google's "Inactive Account Manager" helps you get your digital affairs in order before you die.
Google's "Inactive Account Manager" helps you get your… (Google )

SAN FRANCISCO -- What happens to all of your digital stuff after you die?

That’s the existential question that Google is trying to address with a new dashboard for users of Gmail, Google+, Drive, Picasa and other Google services.

Google calls it the "Inactive Account Manager" and it's a new way to manage your digital afterlife. It allows you to specify what you'd like to have happen to your data after you die or become inactive for an extended period of time, say after three, six, nine or 12 months. (Google will send a text message and an email before taking action).

You can have different directives for different products. You can delete all those cat videos you viewed on YouTube but save your family photographs for posterity on Picasa.

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"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," Google product manager Andreas Tuerk said in a blog post.

The Inactive Account Manager — "not a great name, we know," Tuerk's post acknowledges — can be found on your Google Account settings page.

Google has come up with a technology solution to a matter of hotly debated public policy. Lawmakers across the country have begun to consider digital property legislation as survivors complain they can only gain access to their loved ones' digital affairs with a court order. Congress may also take up the issue.

Many Internet service providers do not allow people to hand over control of their accounts to their heirs even if they make that request in their will. Google still doesn't hand over control of accounts after death, it just hands over the data.

It's unclear if other Internet companies will roll out similar afterlife tools. Facebook has wrestled with how to confirm that users have in fact died and how to let survivors turn that person’s page into a memorial.

All that grim talk about death and dying brought out some gallows humor in the comments section.

Quipped Terry Cameron from Fort St. John, British Columbia: "Love this. Can you let me post from the grave as well? Heh."

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