Google addresses the question of user deaths
E-mail accounts, online photo albums and social networking sites leave extensive digital footprints, but what should happen to that data after we die?
This week, Google will introduce a tool that gives users the option to pass that information on to loved ones or erase it.
Planning "your digital afterlife" - a phrase Google uses on its website - is aimed at keeping the company out of messy family affairs. Privacy laws prohibit Google from sharing personal information, even with a user's closest surviving relatives, and that is why the company needs to offer options while they are living,
Google spokeswoman Nadja Blagojevich said the service - named the "inactive account manager" - was developed after users said they needed a way to deal with the issue of accessing data after death.
The tool enables people to pick "trusted contacts" who can receive information from various Google services if they have not logged into their accounts for a set time.
Photos, for instance, can be sent to family members, while mail messages and online documents can go to a business partner. Account holders can choose to delete data altogether after three, six, nine or 12 months.
Other companies offer similar services. Facebook, for example, allowing users' family members or friends to make a memorial of the Facebook pages.
Family members also could request that profiles be removed, Facebook has said.