While we all gripe about many of the unexpected changes to the way the online services we use regularly work, one feature recently introduced by Google is sure to be embraced by individuals and families—but what does it mean for business?
Google’s Inactive Account Manager and other services like it have understandably raised a great deal of concern over the security of the wide array of online services many businesses make daily use of.
What is the Inactive Account Manager?
What Google’s Inactive Account Manager does is to allow the user to choose whether or not they would like to see a person they choose to receive the data of Google’s services after a set duration of account inactivity, or simply delete the account’s contents.
This includes their activity in:
- Google Contacts
- Google Drive
- Google Plus
- Google Pages
- Google Photos
- Google Voice
This can pose serious risks if you, like many small business owners, utilize Google’s free tools as part of your daily operations. What if, three months after the death of a senior manager, you discover that the person he designated to receive control of his accounts has been doing who knows what with your sensitive business documents?
If you can afford it, Google Apps for Work provides a reliable fix. By creating work emails for your employees, those accounts and their contents remain in your control. That means you can deactivate the account as necessary.
Likewise, if you have a trusted manager or business partner, they can be allowed access to the essential files necessary to keep the business running if anything happens to you. Otherwise, consider turning to your Creative Business Lawyer™ for a discussion on the disposition of your digital assets—a now essential part of your business succession and estate planning process.
What about all the rest?
But what about other major Internet companies that hold most of your online data? That’s a good question, as each one has approached the problem differently. Here is a guide to their current policies:
Facebook approaches the subject a little differently. Rather than enabling the user to set an inactivity reminder, the burden rests on the family of the deceased to reach out and request that the account be either “memorialized” (allowing friends and family members to post on that person’s page with one of them appointed moderator) or simply to delete it outright.
Facebook states that no passwords will be disclosed, nor will an account be transferred to another. This is particularly important as Facebook pages for businesses rely on designating the individual’s personal accounts as administrator or author on the page. However, if the deceased is the sole administrator on the page, this can create significant problems for the business’s continued use of the page.
Twitter so far has stuck to a policy of not disclosing anything without a direct court order—not account data, not passwords or contents. A family member can, however, request that the account be deactivated by providing Twitter with a death certificate and notarized statement.
- Good news: this means that if the user’s personal account had the ability to publish from your business account, you need not worry much about an unauthorized family member of the deceased gaining access.
- Bad news: if you have only a single person handing your social media accounts, you had better make sure that they have the login info documented or that the account was created through a work email address, or else you may never regain access.
LinkedIn’s policy is little different from Twitter’s. The popular professional networking site refuses to disclose any information or transfer ownership without a direct court order, but family members can have an account deactivated if they provide the relevant information.
One feature that puts it a step ahead of Twitter, however, is that executors and the deceased’s employer can request that the account be removed from public view by reporting the death to LinkedIn. However, if the user was the only one with admin access to the company’s LinkedIn company page, you might be out of luck.
Yahoo allows family members access to the deceased’s account only if that request was explicitly made in the decedent’s estate plan. However, the account can be deactivated if the family supplies a death certificate.
Microsoft requires either the explicit permission of the account owner or a direct court order to grant access to or transfer ownership of an account. However, the account can be deactivated at the request of a family member. Similarly to Google Apps for Work, your business would ideally have all work related activity tied to company accounts (@yourbusiness.com rather than @outlook.com), which should enable you to choose what happens to the work account of the deceased.
What you can do
Ultimately, the most powerful thing your business can do is not rely on personal accounts for the essentials. Just as you should separate your private finances from your business’ finances to protect yourself, it is necessary to enforce a strict separation for your employee’s online business accounts from their online personal accounts—to say nothing of your own.
If you’re a small or mid-size business owner, call us today to schedule your comprehensive LIFT™ (legal, insurance, financial and tax) Foundation Audit during which we can look at the disposition of your digital assets if something happens to you. Normally, this session is $1,250, but if you mention this article and we still have room on our calendar this month, we will waive that fee.
Call us today at 612-206-3701 or reach out via our online contact form.
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