Google has rolled out an interesting feature: the Inactive Account Manager.
Aimed at providing some peace of mind for privacy minded users that worry what will happen with their account should they die before getting a chance to delete it, the feature offers the option of selecting a timeout period of 3, 6, 9 and 12 months after the user last signed in to his or her account.
It also provides the option of sending out emails to trusted friends or family members to notify them that the account is inactive, share data with them, and ultimately to delete the account and all the data it holds.
“There are many situations that might prevent you from accessing or using your Google account. Whatever the reason, we give you the option of deciding what happens to your data,” says Google.
The data in question is that which is stored in +1s; Blogger; Contacts and Circles; Drive; Gmail; Google+ Profiles, Pages and Streams; Picasa Web Albums; Google Voice and YouTube.
The feature can be used to provide the user’s heirs with specific instructions – whether they are tied to the account or not – but also to wipe the account clean lest the information contained in it fall into the hands of someone who wasn’t meant to see it.
Users who turn on the option will be reminded of it by Google (via SMS or a email sent to an alternative email account) a month before any of these actions is scheduled, in case they changed their minds but forgot that they set the feature.
Cory Doctorow has an interesting take on the new option, thinking it perfect for activists who are in danger of getting arrested and/or tortured into sharing their account password. “Before you go to a protest, you could set your dead-man’s switch to a couple hours — if you end up in jail and out of contact, all your stuff would be deleted before you were even processed by the local law,” he writes.
Unfortunately, the current choice of timeout period doesn’t lend itself to such uses, but maybe Google will offer shorter ones in the future.