Digital afterlife: Google's beyond-the-grave plan

Ever think about what happens to your email account when you die? A new feature from the Internet giant functions like a will for your online assets.

By Aimee Picchi Apr 12, 2013 3:11PM

GPeople at a funeral in a cemetery (copyright Mike Kemp/the Agency Collection/Getty Images)oogle's (GOOG) latest feature might have a terrible name -- the Inactive Account Manager -- but it addresses a serious problem: What happens to your digital assets after you die? 


It's not a comforting thought, but with more of our lives recorded digitally via email, Facebook (FB), Twitter, Instagram and a thousand other applications, it's become one of those big questions most of us will face. 


Google's approach is to prod its users into figuring out what they want done with their data before they die. 


"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," the company said in a blog post about the new feature


Here's how it works: Users can decide to have their data deleted three to 12 months after their "inactivity," or else pick trusted contacts to receive the data. That means if something happens to you, your loved ones could receive your complete email and blogging records from Google.


In an effort to avoid an inadvertent data dump on loved ones, Google said it will first warn customers about the transfer of personal files via a text message and email to your secondary address. After all, while Google might presume it's a posthumous file transfer, some customers might simply have switched to another service. 


It's an idea that other companies have sought to address. The Digital Beyond, for one, offers resources about what happens to your digital assets after death, while Asset Lock charges for a service that stores digital copies of important documents and sends final emails to friends and family members. 


Some states are turning their attention to the issue, too. Virginia earlier this year passed a law that gives parents access to their kids' digital accounts, according to the Digital Beyond.


Google users were supportive of the new feature, according to comments left on its blog post. A few had suggestions, though, including one man who wrote, "The point here is that Google is not accessible from paradise :-) try harder guys . . . Please . . ."


Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi.

More on moneyNOW

Apr 12, 2013 3:31PM
Margaret Thatcher said it best."The problem with socialism is eventually you run out of other peoples money"
Apr 12, 2013 6:22PM
I'm more worried about how terrible my mom's gonna feel about all the porn! Sorry, Moms, but hey, I didnt go blind after all!
 DELETE EVERYTHING except your you tube channel. The virtual eulogy is better than wondering how THEY are going to REMEMBER YOU 
Apr 12, 2013 7:14PM
better to bury all secrets,.there is an afterlife
Apr 12, 2013 6:12PM

It would be like reused phone numbers.  people would send e-mail, love messages,ETC,  to the new person using  your user name.

They may get some hot pictures or porn. 

Apr 12, 2013 6:12PM
Apr 12, 2013 7:43PM
Sending mine to pretty sure that may be my new address!
Apr 14, 2013 11:42AM
What I don't understand, is why is the information not deleted from the server after it is delivered to the intended recipient. Why is it stored forever? It would be line the post office making a copy of all your mail and feeling responsible for delivering old crap to your love ones after your demise. Be careful of what you write on the net.
Apr 12, 2013 5:37PM

Well there are often things left on sites that either leave memories or to say the least reminders of ones passing,removing data would at least let us know someone has moved on.

Apr 12, 2013 6:17PM
it gets interesting when you factor in people who routinely blog and write in forums like huffington post. over time all this writing begins to form a clear picture of you in life, and so it 'living on' is a kind of perpetual eulogy. i don't believe in a 'personal heaven', so the idea of something about me living on has appeal. years ago they had 'virtual cemateries' on the web. i guess they still have them.  
Apr 12, 2013 6:41PM
Houdini took his phone with him to the grave and tweeted his wife every Halloween concerning what he wanted for Xmas. It's a fact, check it.
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