Earlier this week, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) announced a new feature to allow its users to predetermine what happens to all of their Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) data when they die. The service is called Inactive Account Manager (an admittedly boring name, according to the company), and although the settings don’t have to go into effect only when you pass away, it makes you wonder what does happen to our data when we go away.
More than a gimmick
In the old days, all of our most important documents — licenses, wills, and the like — were stored in a safe in our house, or a safe deposit box at the bank. Nowadays, most of our documents, bank information, passwords, wills, and other important information is stored on our computers or online. Sure, some of us still have lots of paperwork bulging out of a box somewhere in the closet, but those days are numbered.
In today’s world, we have pictures, videos, documents, emails, texts, online profiles, status updates, tweets, and whatever else floating around online. Maybe you don’t care what happens to all this data after your time is done, and that’s a valid argument, but it’s likely that someone will. Loved ones and friends will be left to sort all that junk out. They’ll be the ones shutting down accounts, sifting through Dropbox to find your will, downloading pictures of memories with you, and other sad things we don’t like to think about.
That’s why Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s new feature is a sobering, but beneficial, reminder that part of our lives are lived online. Google will let its users set up ahead of time what they want to happen to their data across all of Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s online offerings. This means that Google+ profiles (if anyone’s still using them), Gmail, YouTube, Blogger, +1s, Contacts, Drive, Google Voice, Picasa, and other data can be deleted or sent to a trusted contact when the day comes. You can set your account to go inactive after just a few months of inactivity and then have the data transferred or deleted. You will also be reminded by email or text before any changes happen — you know, just in case you’re not really gone.
A digital will, if you will
Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) said in a blog post about the new settings, “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.” Their statement isn’t just a thoughtful one; it’s actually quite serious. Americans spend billions on online security and identity protection when we’re alive, but most of us will shell out $0 for it when we’re gone.