Google users can share access to email and social media from beyond the grave thanks to a new feature that sends out password information if a user has been offline for a long time. The tool comes at a time when people are leaving beyond fewer physical artifacts like letters or photographs for loved ones to remember them by.
The new “Inactive Account Manager” is intended to help users manage their “digital afterlife,” said Google in a blog post on Tuesday. The tool works by instructing Google to email passwords to as many as ten “trusted contacts” in the event that a user has not signed in for three or more months. Alternately, users can tell Google to simply delete the accounts; in either case, users receive a text message before Google takes action.
You can find the tool by going to Settings -> Accounts in your Gmail account or by clicking the link in Google blog. Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like:
For practical purposes, this means that you can ensure loved ones have an easy way to access not just Gmail but other Google services too — like documents in Drive, Blogger accounts, Google voice and Picassa pictures. All of these services are likely to contain information that is of financial or sentimental value to family members.
The Google feature arrives at a time when property and privacy laws have often failed to keep up with the digital age, leading to conflicts between relatives and social media companies. Last year, for instance, parents unsuccessfully sued Facebook to obtain messages of their dead daughter (Facebook refused on the grounds of federal privacy law).
The new Google tool, however, contains a notable omission: it does not allow users to provide access to the music, books and movies contained in Google Play. The reason is that, like Apple’s iTunes, Google Play customers don’t actually own the items they buy. As a Google spokesman explains:
“Digital content purchased on Google Play is licensed to the individual account holder personally. These rights end on the death of the account holder, and there is currently no way of assigning them to others after the user’s death.”
If learn more about the ultimate fate of your digital books and music anyways, see “3 ways to deal with digital media when you die.”