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Google details dead user data deletion decision

11 Apr 2013
Google logo (Robert Scoble Flickr)

Google has introduced the Inactivity Account Manager to let users opt to delete their data upon their death.

The Inactivity Account Manager allows users to have their data deleted following lengthy periods of inactivity. Using the manager also lets users send their Google data to designated third-parties.

"Not many of us like thinking about death - especially our own. But making plans for what happens after you're gone is really important for the people you leave behind," wrote Google product manager Andreas Tuerk in a blog post.

"So today, we're launching a new feature that makes it easy to tell Google what you want done with your digital assets when you die or can no longer use your account."

Google's tool handles data from Blogger; Contacts, Drive, Gmail, Google+, Pages, Picasa Web Albums, Google Voice and YouTube. Users can setup their account to delete or pass on data after an inactivity period of at least three months.

Before Google deletes or sends out data it will issue emails and text messages to verify that it should go forward with the process.

The tool is a change of direction for Google. Previously, the firm required a court order to allow friends and family of the departed to access a departed user's data. The approach is also used by Twitter to manage accounts.

One firm that offers a unique approach to a person's digital afterlife is Facebook. The social networking giant allows deceased users accounts to be "memorialised".

Memorialised accounts get wiped of confidential information and are frozen so no one can post through the account. Following the process only those close to the former user are allowed to post messages on their Wall.

User's ownership of data has become a key battle ground for privacy groups in recent years. In Europe, privacy watchdogs have had lengthy discussions about the "right to be forgotten". If granted, the right would allow users to delete their digital footprint whenever they want.

Google has come out in favour of the right to be forgotten in the past. However, the firm says the idea is currently too broad and shouldn't be established for search data.

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James Dohnert

James is a freelance writer and editor. In addition to ClickZ, his work has appeared in publications like V3, The Commonwealth Club,, and Shonen Jump magazine. He studied Journalism at Weber State University.

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