This isn’t a tech story anyone is comfortable talking about but each and every person and their family will have to deal with it at some point. What happens to your digital data and online life after you die?
Think for a moment about your digital footprint. There’s your Facebook account, Twitter, Google, Gmail, Google Drive, Amazon, Netflix, Dropbox, and maybe a hundred other accounts only you can sign into. If no one knows your usernames and passwords, those accounts will not be accessible to your family and close friends without them notifying those companies and likely submitting written proof along with your death certificate in order to either gain access or shut it down.
That’s a huge responsibility to leave someone.
Thankfully, many online companies have taken steps to make it easier to make that data accessible by someone you choose before you die.
Facebook famously has its Legacy Contact which allows every Facebook user to name a friend your Legacy Contact which will give them some control over what happens to your Facebook page when you’re gone.
After naming up to 3 friends as Legacy Contact, they will be able to notify Facebook of your passing.
Facebook will allow them to turn your page into a memorial where friends can leave tribute posts for as long as the page stays active. Legacy contacts also have the ability to accept requests and change the profile photo. They won’t be able to post as you or see your messages.
You can find and set up your Legacy Contact by going to your Facebook settings and look for “Memorialization Settings”.
Google takes leaving your Google data to another level. If you use Google products such as
Gmail, search, Google Drive, YouTube, and the many other products Google and Alphabet own,
you may have tens or hundreds of thousands of digital documents in the Cloud.
If you pass away and no one has access to your usernames and passwords, it is very difficult for someone
to do anything with it all.
Google offers users an “Inactive Account Manager” which effectively allows you to will your Google data to someone you trust.
By going to www.myaccount.google.com/inactive you can set up who can access your accounts and what they can do with them.
First, you’ll decide who you want to give access to. You can select up to 10 different people and give each person access to the data you choose beforehand.
For example, you may want to give your business partner all of your contacts, you may want to give your spouse access to your Gmail, Google Drive, Google Photos, and your kid’s access to your YouTube account.
When you die or stop using your Google account, those people will be notified and will receive information allowing them to access the data.
How does Google know you’re dead? Good question. It doesn’t search through obituaries, rather it suspects you are dead when you stop using Google products.
In the “Inactive Account Manager” you can choose a length of time Google should wait before sending a message with the information. You can choose 3 months, 6 months, 1 year or 18 months. If you don’t log in to Google for a while, leading up to that deadline Google will both email and send a text to your phone to remind you to log in.
Another feature within the Inactive Account Manager may seem a bit creepy. If you use Gmail you can set up an AutoReply that will be sent after your account becomes inactive.
You can write your own auto-reply letting them know you are no longer using the email or any other message you choose to create. You can also choose to delete your account once it is inactive.
It’s important to plan what happens to all of your digital data after you pass away. Remember, you don’t really own it and for many of the companies, sharing your usernames and passwords with other people is a violation of their Terms of Service