Our online lives have become so important that Google just released a feature that enables users to control what happens to their data after they die.
Our digital lives have become complex. What we share on Google+, YouTube and Picasa, along with what we store in Google's cloud storage Drive, isn't just funny cat videos and pictures of your new haircut.
Today, we might store personal financial information, system backups or important work documents on Drive, which enables users to store Google Docs, photos and documents.
We might even have posted meaningful thoughts or photos on Google+ that we'd want a loved one to have access to. Or maybe there are pictures or videos uploaded that you'd rather your parents didn't see.
Google is giving you a way to figure out now what you want to happen to all of this information.
"The feature is called Inactive Account Manager not a great name, we know and you'll find it on your Google Account settings page," wrote Google product manager Andreas Tuerk in a blog post. "You can tell us what to do with your Gmail messages and data from several other Google services if your account becomes inactive for any reason."
"We hope that this new feature will enable you to plan your digital afterlife -- in a way that protects your privacy and security -- and make life easier for your loved ones after you're gone," he wrote.
Tuerk added that users can choose to have their information deleted after three, six or 12 months of inactivity. They also can name one or more people to receive the data from Google's various services.
Just in case you're inactive and not actually dead, Google is set to send you a warning via an email to a secondary address, and a text message to your cellphone.
"This is good. It's going to force people to think about what they want done with their digital artifacts and data after they're gone," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group.
"There's a reason that people keep some things private even inside public services like those provided by Google," Olds said. "If someone was able to get at that information after your death, it could cause emotional or even legal problems for others."
He added that he expects other Internet companies to start adding this kind of afterlife feature. "Actually, I think this is going to be increasingly a serious concern," said Olds. "As people put more and more important data online, it starts to matter what happens to it after they've logged out of life."
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is email@example.com.
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