When it comes right down to it the modern Internet is really quite young. The term Web 2.0 was coined back in 1999 to help describe websites that had evolved beyond simple static webpages, but most of the web services we have come to know and love are actually less than 10 years old. As we start to pour more of ourselves into the cloud, it’s worth asking the question, what happens to our data when we die? I recently had a close personal friend of mine pass away suddenly at the age of 32, and every time I log into Facebook, I can’t help but notice his avatar floating off to the right in my chat list, smiling away like nothing ever happened. It left me wondering how Facebook will deal with the ever increasing numbers of users who are no longer with us, and Google to its credit is once again leading the way.
Google’s new Inactive Account Manager allows users to specify what will happen to their data after a set period of time, and it is really quite clever. The system has built in safeguards that will send out text messages to verify you are actually no longer among the living, at which point the system will either notify your loved ones with instructions on how to access your account, or delete your data once and for all.
The cynical among us could make the case that Google is simply looking for ways to shave on long term storage costs, but that just sounds awful. We prefer to think Google is just trying to prepare us mentally for our digital afterlife, and giving us a chance to choose how we want our personal data handled after we shuffle off this mortal coil.