Things to consider when setting up Google Inactive Manager

Google Inactive Manager is a recent introduction by Google to allow account holders to share their email and data with a nominated next of kin or friends after they have died or have stopped using Google services. A previous post looks at the pros and cons of using Google Inactive Manager and why you might want to do so. Here are some additional things to think about when setting this up this function…

Google’s decision to make a user’s private data available to people they have nominated is a positive one, especially if users are considerate in how they manage their settings, balancing their privacy v. providing information that would be practical or of comfort in some way, to their friends and relatives.

Having trialled this feature recently, here are some considerations if you decide to take advantage of this function.

Google Inactive Manager allows you to decide what Google features and data your next of kin/family members/friends can download in the event of your death.

Think about what you want to share. You may want to reveal data from your blog or Google+ circles to those you’ve nominated but not your email. When signing up, there’s a full checkbox list of Google features. Just check the information areas that you would like to disclose.

With this kind of digital estate planning, tell your closest kin what you are planning to do and what information you’ve nominated. This way you can discuss what your decision means and there are no surprises later in the event that something happens to you. On a purely practical note, your Google account needs to be inactive for at least three months before your nominated party can download your data. Discussing the steps that you have taken with them means that they may avoid running around in administrative or legal circles trying to obtain this account information in the meantime.

Google Inactive Manager only applies to gmail accounts – i.e. your nameorxxxx@ gmail.com

Email accounts hosted by Google but which are instead Gmail accounts with Google Apps (for instance, a business email address), are not supported by this service. For a Google Apps account, you’ll need to consider an alternative means of sharing data, for instance by setting up someone you trust as an admin on your account. If you have set up multiple personal Gmail accounts (i.e. name@gmail.com) you can set up Google Inactive Manager for each of these.

Google Inactive Manager will set into action if you stop using Google and don’t make the service inactive again.

It’s important to check in and update this service regularly to ensure that it is reflective of your digital afterlife wishes.  Your next of kin or the friends you want to nominate may change over time as may the level and type of information you want to share.

You can choose more than one person with whom you share your data. It’s not immediately obvious but if you wish to change the Google information that your previously nominated friends/family can download, click on the edit symbol (the pencil) next to their name. There’s also the option of deleting their access status if you change your mind later.

Online service providers change and go out of business as I’ve written about before. Google’s Gmail is showing no signs of abating, however, if you do decide to use another email service and discontinue using Gmail, make sure you deactivate Google Inactive Manager otherwise you’ll be sharing information before it’s time. A false alarm would be awkward, upsetting… and have privacy as well as security implications.

Google Inactive Manager offers the option for you to provide a posthumous message to your closest friends and family

There are lots of services that will charge a fee for you to send a personalised message to loved ones after your death.

When you set up Google Inactive Manager and nominate the family and friends you would like to share your email or other Google data with, you are able to include a personalised message for each nominee which they will receive once the service is activated. It’s free and part of the opt-in process.

While Google Inactive Manager serves a practical purpose, use this message to say something thoughtful. It really will make a difference.

Is digital eroding our past?

Our new digital identities mostly exist in the hands of third parties and for many these days, memories reside in email and social media. Our mementos of events are digital photographs, or a casual comment posted online. These seem fleeting in the moment, but can quickly gain significance as life changes occur. While we assume their digital nature makes them always accessible, they may not end up being everlasting.

The people in our family have always hoarded personal mementos. Correspondence, photos, interesting lists, old membership cards and random but significant bits of paper – we have thrown these haphazard fragments of personal history into cardboard boxes, under beds and in drawers. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been sorting through forty years of these memory boxes.

Among them, I discovered perhaps the first recorded account of my thirteen year old self winding up my five year old brother. I was at boarding school at the time, and written letters were my main connection to home. The distance taught us the value of letter writing, between each other, family and friends. Given that we kept most of these letters, I was able to eventually piece together this incident from three perspectives, with letters from my mother providing a third perspective. His response to my paper trolling was assertive while at the same time, totally adorable and generous. And my mother’s intervention demonstrated her humorous side in how she decided to adjudicate the situation.

Preserving memories_ written v. digital afterlife

Looking back on correspondence from the past has been fun, comforting and enlightening. It documents so much about our family and our relationships with each other. Old letters have been a joy to look through and reminisce over, sometimes providing a reminder of situations that I hadn’t thought about for years. Sometimes, they recount events that I have no memory of at all.

I’m not sure when I stopped writing letters, however my brother continued to be an avid correspondent with ink and paper.

It was a significant occasion when he got his first email account as I had been encouraging him to do so for a while. In one of his many boxes, I uncovered a printed copy of our first email conversation from the late 1990s.

The email address I was using at that time was also my first email account, which until a fortnight or so ago I hadn’t thought about in ten years. But after trying to access it again to look for any other emails between us, I discovered that the email provider had been acquired, renamed and that my account no longer existed.

Not only have I lost this period of history, I’ve lost messages from the future. For example, at the opening of the London Millennium Dome, visitors were asked to provide their email addresses accompanied by a short message before leaving the exhibition. The Dome said they would send these notes back to their owners decades later as a reminder of what they had been thinking about that day.

I won’t receive that obnoxious message from my younger self outlining what a disappointment I felt the Dome had been and I suspect few of the thousands of visitors to the Dome will receive theirs. Given most people will have changed their email address at least once since then, I imagine the bounce rate on that particular mailout – if they even bother – will be close to 100%. Yet in my boxes of memories I still have the postcard and novelty over sized pencil that I bought from the Dome gift shop, items that on face value are junk but they’ve served a purpose of sparking distinct memories of that day.

Preserving memories_written v digital afterlife

My point is that I’ve consistently kept physical mementos, while I haven’t applied the same consideration to digital history and correspondence. I have a rich mine of private correspondence which provides a recorded history up to my early 20s. But as soon as I moved to email, it almost immediately runs dry, as my communications quickly moved online.

A fifteen year gap to now clearly demonstrates a casual attitude toward personal email archiving. Of course, notes and correspondence have been captured in other ways, for instance on Facebook and even MySpace walls or apps such as Foursquare or Twitter. But these tend to be public interactions so their nature is less personal.

In the past decade, I’ve moved from Caramail to Hotmail to Yahoo to Gmail for social use, as well as a multitude of work email addresses. Unfortunately, some of these accounts are now lost and no longer accessible. The speed in which technology platforms change means that it’s important to archive personal conversations as they happen. Today Facebook and Gmail might seem immortal, but there’s every reason to question whether they’ll still be around in a decade. Or whether they’ll make it easy to uncover these past memories. Their purpose may be entirely different.

While I’m not suggesting that every single personal email conversation must be stored, this recent archiving experience has highlighted the value of a system – even one that is chaotic and ad-hoc – to continually capture personal messages and notes so they aren’t lost to my future self. A new way of communicating requires a new way of archiving. For the email accounts I can still access, I plan to rummage through them like old cardboard boxes and recover personal conversations. Maybe, I’ll be able to re-connect with people from the past.

If you do a search on email archiving, there’s plenty of advice on how to manage old accounts and email management. Here’s a wrap up of articles that I’ve found useful. There are also multiple digital services that now offer email management or archiving components in their offerings. If you have other tips to add, please do so below. All ideas are welcome.

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