Google adds a "dead-man's switch" -- uses cases from torture-resistance to digital wills

Google's rolled out an "Inactive Account Manager" -- a dead-man's switch for your Google accounts. If you set it, Google will watch your account for protracted inactivity. After a set period, you can tell it to either squawk ("Email Amnesty International and tell them I'm in jail," or "Email my kids and tell them I'm dead and give them instructions for probating my estate") and/or delete all your accounts. This has a lot of use-cases, from preventing your secrets from being tortured out of you (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) to easing the transition of your digital "estate."

No one wants to think about their own death, but not thinking about it has a zero percent chance of preventing it. The Inactive Account Manager (great euphemism) can send your data from many Google services to your digital heirs, alert your contacts, delete the accounts, or do all or none of the above. It affects Blogger, Contacts/Circles (in Google+) Drive, Gmail, Google+ profiles, Pages and Streams, Picasa albums, Google Voice, and YouTube.

It also serves as a useful self-destruct button. Don’t want anyone watching your stupid YouTube videos after you’ve long forgotten that you had an account? Don’t want your kids to find your password notebook years after you’re gone and read your dirty chat sessions with their dad? You can have your account auto-destruct after trying to reach you using other e-mail addresses and by text message. You know, in case you just get tired of Gmail and wander off somewhere else.

Google Introduces Dead Man’s Switch For Your Accounts


  1. “Hello. If you’re getting this email, it means my account is now inactive. Tell my children I love them.”

  2. All I want out of AI for the next 30/40 years is enough smarts that I can leave a crontab behind that will keep my GMail account alive a little longer, and do enough natural language processing and scripting in the semantic web to allow me to make sure my Facebook acount “may” be attending my funeral. 

    1. Here’s a bash script that covers the basics of what you want:

      There’s a few handy pre-made tools you can use for gmail access (or you can just use imap directly), and apparently a similar thing exists for facebook:

      It doesn’t let you create events, but you can list and rsvp to them…so with a bit of bash and regex, your dream can come true today.

    2. What I want is google to produce a markov model of all my previous emails and posts, and then continue simulating my regular internet use behavior indefinitely in the case of my death.

      1. This would be easier if you changed your current behavior to something simple like responding “Like cherry pie with ice cream on top” to every email, tweet, etc.

    1. Some people, when confronted with a problem, think “I know, I’ll use regular expressions.” Now they have two problems.

      – JWZ

  3. How about a feature where you supply an emergency password and it activates immediately?

    Oppressive regime tortures a password out of you and upon its first use  — poof!

  4. I’m not sure that I would actually trust Google to really wipe everything under any condition that I state. FaceBook, either. I’m sure that even if they had a 2-hour window, they’d only wipe it as far as I could tell. Law Enforcement/Government would still be able to get it, I bet.

    1. Okay, so your torturers can get your stuff, but your ex-girlfriend can’t. Seems fair to me.

    2.  What’s in it for them if they do that though?

      I tend to assume Google follows ‘don’t be unprofitable’ in its business dealings. Storing deleted data that could be later subpoena’ed opens them up for possible court cases and doesn’t bring in any money.

  5. Oh, pro comment on the announcement page:
    “downtown said…
    I dont’t care about leaving my +1’s. We should be able to leave to someone the books, music and apps we bought! Funny how I could share useless things like feeds on Reader (since Reader itself needs a will by now)”

  6. This seems like some ego vanity tool. It’s like some Sharper Image catalog “You know you are important &
    that is why we created this piece of B.S. for you… AND JUST YOU!”

    I mean, I am sure there are folks out there who would genuinely like their accounts deleted if something happens, but they seem to be in the same camp as people who would already know  how to do this to begin with. Most people won’t care or won’t be affected.

  7. It turns out  (while following a link on another BB post today) that SMBC covered this (in part):

  8. preventing your secrets from being tortured out of you

    They’ll clamp your genitals while a laptop is in front of you.  Then they’ll demand your Google credentials to turn the switch off.  All this while your grandmother is hanging from the rafters with alligators snapping beneath her feet.

    You’ll let them turn off the switch.

  9. Law of Unintended Consequences for the “squawk” version…

    Great for “insurance” of the “if anything happens to me, your secrets will be mailed to every newspaper and tv station in the world!” or, with a bit more technical knowledge “if anything happens to me, the bombs will go off!” varieties.

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