In September 2012, Christine S. Anderson posted a blog article entitled Planning for Access to Your Life On-Line. Since posting this article, the ubiquitous tech giant, Google, has come up with its own solution for planning access to your Google account. In April of 2013, Google introduced a program called Inactive Account Manager. The program allows anyone who uses Google services, including not only Gmail but also +1s, Contacts, Drive, Google+, Hangouts, Picasa, Profile, Reader and YouTube, to decide what they want to have happen to the data stored through these web-based services.
The process is easy. Simply go to google.com/settings/account and look for 'œaccount management.' Then, click on 'œcontrol what happens to your account when you stop using Google.' From there you are given several options. You can decide when you want Google to end your account'”3, 6, 9, or 12 months after going inactive'”and who you want to receive notice when you stop using your account. In case you inadvertently stop using Google for the designated period of time, you are prompted to provide contact information for yourself to alert you before any action is taken to deactivate your account.
Google allows you to designate up to 10 individuals to be contacted when Google deactivates your account. You can also select which data a particular individual will have access to. For example, you can give your Gmail data to one individual and your YouTube data to another. After your designated period of nonuse, Google will notify the elected individuals that you have stopped using your account. The individual will then have 3 months to download the data you have selected for that individual to receive. You can even write the individual a message, which will be sent along with the notification.
As an alternative, you can simply have Google delete all the information on your account, with or without notification to anyone.
Google's new service allows for far greater control over the management of your online data. In comparison, Facebook does not currently have a service to allow an individual to direct where the content of an account will go after it becomes inactive. Instead, a family member or executor has to contact Facebook to have an account deleted or turned into a memorial page (essentially freezing the page and a user's content to prevent updates other than posts from friends on a memorialized timeline.)
Transfers on death for content on social media and data storage sites depend on a company's terms of service as well as copyright laws and file encryption. Even while most of your Google data can be transferred if you take advantage of the Inactive Account Manager, not all of your content is covered. Digital content on Google Play for example ends on a person's death. Items purchased through iTunes, on the other hand, can be accessed on up to five computers. Thus, if you provide your heirs with access to your account, or have your account backed up on your computer, these files can be left to your heirs. Kindle too allows family member with ID information to access your files. As a result, as with online access to your financial information, it is important to include access information to your entire online footprint if you want your heirs to receive this content.
Making sure, as discussed in Planning for Access to Your Life On-Line, that the appropriate third parties will have access to financial accounts in the event of sudden illness or death is extremely important. However, planning for third parties to have access to the rest of your online-foot print is also important. This content often has sentimental value, but also potential commercial value that you may want to pass to designated individuals.
As our online footprints increase and more items are stored online, the process of providing access to these items will likely continue to evolve. Google's action in this area seems to indicate a growing awareness of the importance of management of online information in the event of serious illness or death. Our goal is to make clients aware of the issue of controlling your online footprint, outside of just your financial accounts, and to continue to encourage our clients to take steps to plan for unexpected illness or death.