Last updated: 19 March 2014
Last year I discussed the problem of what happens to our digital assets after our lives come to an end. If you haven’t read the post you can find it here.
There are already, well documented online services that offer users the chance to live on through their social media threads. Kate Freeman of Mashable, for example, highlights the difficulty people face when confronted with the status update (or rather, automated brand endorsement) of a deceased friend, citing the fact that there are ‘no clear laws’ about the accounts of the afterlife. Aside from Facebook, Liveson.org is one specific site which analyses your twitter feed, likes, tastes and syntax to communicate in a similar style to you after you’ve gone.
Another, DeadSoci.al, allows users to store and release timed messages after their death. This morbid topic became a plotline for an episode of a UK drama series called Black Mirror, recently. Its writer Charlie Brooker is notorious for his social commentary in the UK media, and describes modern technology as ‘a drug’ that has us hooked in this interview with Wired’s Stephen Kelly. The episode in question explored the concerns which arise when social media attempts to bridge the gap between life and death.
It would seem the subject of protecting your online accounts after your demise is now gaining more prominence with the public, and another concern is whether your inactive accounts should remain accessible to friends and family, as well as companies. One industry giant, Google, feels it has come up with a solution to this problem. This year, it launched a new feature called Inactive Account Manager. The feature allows users to decide what Google should do with your Gmail messages and data from any other Google online accounts after you pass. You can choose to have your data deleted after three, six, nine or 12 months of inactivity. Before the systems take any action, Google will notify you by sending a text message to your cell phone and email to the secondary addresses you’ve provided. It all sounds quite sensible to me.
However, the concept of trust is never straightforward. Users of Inactive Account Manager will have to decide if there is anyone they can fully trust with their passwords. Working in digital security I appreciate that divulging a password to anyone is risky, the concern being that your accounts could be hacked or your information could be sold to a third party, which is why strong authentication is so important in the first place.
As the digital age is still in its infancy, many people don’t consider their online assets when creating a will and Inactive Account Manager is a step in the right direction to help protect your online interests. The idea of passing on your private online possessions to your loved ones is clearly something which resonates with the public and in my mind; it will only be a matter of time before other sites start offering similar protection services. What do you think? If you use a Google account at work, it could provide your final handover…