Google Death Manager? Search engine giant lets you plan digital afterlife with 'Inactive Account Manager' tool

Currently, Google grants a dead person’s family access to their digital presence only in special cases

To my brother, I leave... my Yahoo email account password.

A person’s “digital legacy” – that thoroughly modern concern encompassing one’s electronic correspondence, personal contacts and trove of photographs – is a fiddly inheritance for those already struggling with the loss of a loved one.

Will-writers and tech companies are turning their minds to what customers want done with their email and social media accounts when they are gone.

Google is to address the dilemma with a service allowing its users to control relatives’  and friends’ access to their online accounts after they die.

A range of websites, such as Pass My Will, Legacy Locker and Deathswitch, have emerged in recent years, helping people to administer post-mortem access to their digital estates with “e-wills”. Currently, Google will grant access to a deceased’s family members only in exceptional circumstances. Facebook will not give access, instead offering families the option to transform the deceased’s page into a memorial. Twitter will not provide access but will deactivate an account.

Allowing relatives or close friends to  view emails, for instance, could help them to locate important documents stored electronically – but would also open up all archived conversations.

Google’s new service, entitled “Inactive Account Manager”, gives users the option to delete the contents of their accounts, including their Gmail inboxes, should they remain inactive for three, six or nine months.

Alternatively, data can be passed on to selected contacts from all Google services, including YouTube, Google+ and the user’s address book. Nicola Plant, partner at the solicitor Pemberton Greenish, who has written a research paper on digital estates, welcomed the move. As it stands, she says, access tends to “die with you”.

There have been two recent test cases in the US. In 2010, the parents of a 21-year-old who committed suicide without leaving a note successfully challenged Facebook and Google’s  refusal to hand over their son’s passwords. They hoped that access to his accounts would offer some explanation for his suicide.

in 2004, the father of a US soldier killed in the Iraqi city of Fallujah wanted to create a memorial from his son’s emails but was denied access to the account by Yahoo! The refusal was later overturned by a court. There have yet to be any such cases in the UK.

More people are choosing to include internet passwords in their wills. “What people have online, their digital legacy, is like a scrapbook with sentimental value,” said Ms Plant. “The question is what of that do you want to be passed on?”

Matthew Strain, a partner at London law firm Strain Keville, says he holds passwords for an increasing number of clients, but that as more of our lives pass into “the cloud”, legal issues arise. “With the advent of Apple Passbook and Google Wallet, as soon as you have the password you have access to someone’s bank account,” he said. “If you leave your money to your wife but your best friend has access, they could spend that money on a holiday to Vegas. Then it would be down to your wife to follow legal proceedings to get it back.”

Both solicitors advise clients to keep an up-to-date list of passwords in a confidential place. Facebook and Twitter have no immediate plans to change their policies on this issue.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer - 2nd & 3rd Line

    £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The IT Support Engineer is needed to ass...

    Recruitment Genius: Junior / Mid Software Developer

    £22000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Service Desk Manager

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity to join a p...

    Recruitment Genius: Graphic and Motion Designer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Do you get a buzz from thinking up new ideas a...

    Day In a Page

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea