What Happens To Your Online Life Once You Bite The Dust?

None of us like to think about death (unless you have a rather morbid personality) but at some point in our lives we will ask ourselves “what will happen to our belongings and how can we ensure things go right?!” Well we all know how to deal with our assets like our property, money, cars, jewellery etc. get them in your will or in some cases the appropriate law will make decisions for you – but what about our online assets?

What happens to your social media accounts, online music downloads, personal blogs and other online assets when you bite the dust? Will you live forever online (online zombie land) or will you be forgotten – simply deleted!

Supporting graphic - picture of coffins
By DanCentury via Flickr

So delve with me into a STORY FROM BEYOND THE (ONLINE) GRAVE… mwahahahaha (that’s a scary laugh by the way!)

You Are Dead – What Happens Now?

Sorry to break it to you that bluntly – but yes let’s just say that you said “hasta la vista to life”. Well actually you only said that to your offline life – your online life is kicking it large! If you are one of those people who asks themselves that question of what’s going to happen with your digital assets, then you are playing catch up, because apparently over 11% of Brits are already including those in their wills.

Supporting graphic - styleised social media icons
By Webtreats via Flickr

Data protection lawyers recommend that we should control what information is publicly available before we leave our mortal life behind, instead of leaving it to your family or appointed people to try sorting things out. Why is it important? Because law has yet to catch up with the fast moving technology, many countries are trying to put appropriate legislation in place – but it will take a while! You might think “why would I care if the law catches up?” Well, it is of importance because your data and digital assets could be used after you die. You don’t really want your details being used, for example, to advertise the newest diet trends. So your first step really is to understand the terms and conditions of the site you have your music on, hosts your blog, has your images, or the social media platforms that you use to share your personal moments on. What will they do with your assets when you die?

Because legislation is such a grey area in the online world – your best way forward is to note down your login details to all your online assets and name someone who will be executing your digital wish for you. This is because family (or executors) will not have the automatic right to alter or switch off your online life.

If you really want to make sure that everything goes to plan in your online afterlife you could simply appoint a “digital legacy company” (yes they exist I haven’t made them up). They are just like an online safe which holds all your passwords which are released to a “guardian” that you appoint. You might think this is “just another fad that will die off”. I’d say “hold fire” they are here to stay. Why? Have you ever thought about the fact that most of the things we sign up to nowadays are totally paperless? This means no physical evidence is there to show that your digital assets exist. Example: I opened an online bank account – online; I got an email confirming everything but no “welcome letter”, which I would normally keep in one of my many files at home. This means if nobody got my email password how would they ever know?

At some point a new generation of “digital individuals” will be created who will need services such as digital legacy. But until then it is important to cover both online and offline life!

Becoming An Online Zombie?

If people do not get their afterlives in order – will we be haunted by the dead on our social media accounts? Waiting for us to join them at some point? For me it almost seems like a constant reminder of death – like a clock ticking down for us living!

Supporting graphic - photo of woman as a zombie
By Grmisiti via Flickr

Well some people are arguing that it goes against the dead person’s human rights to simply delete him or her from the online world. But is it better becoming an “online zombie”? My other half’s cousin passed away a couple of years ago now, and I still freak out when we get updates from his Facebook account i.e. to wish him a happy birthday – Really? Maybe I am just an exception but it just makes you think about that person being dead. As a family member or friend do I really want to be constantly reminded?

So, what are the online death policies of our much loved social platforms? You might think there would be a standard in place but actually no there isn’t. The reality is that in most cases the social media platform has the final say on what happens to your digital live. This means that in some cases companies will simply prohibit the handover of any data to beneficiaries. So if you still think that you do not care what happens to your digital afterlife you might want to think again!

Facebook

Facebook’s policy is to either delete the account or on request of a valid party (legal executor or family member) to turn the account into a memorial site. If the account is changed into a memorial site it will have different account settings. This means that you will not be hassled by a dead person’s account notifications. It will simply allow family and friends to leave messages on the page. Some people complained to Facebook that they were getting friend suggestions of people who had passed away. So to ensure that we do not get haunted by the (online) living-dead the memorial setting prevents this from happening.

Twitter

Twitter is a little blunter about the online-death. Their policy is that they will simply not grant any access to anyone after the death of a person, regardless of the relationship to the deceased. The only thing they are willing to do is deactivate the account when presented with evidence of the death.

Google

What you forgot about Google? How could you? All our online life revolves around the almighty Google! Their policy could actually “doom” services such as the digital legacy. They offer something called the “inactive account manager”. In simple terms – it’s a digital will. When you choose to enable it, the service activates something called the “dead-man’s switch”. This means that if your Google account is not used for a certain time an automated email is sent to a trusted person (that you have specified) who will gain access to your account and can then download all your data. Or you could simply ask Google to delete your account and all associated data after a certain time of inactivity.

ITunes

A whole other problem is presented by platforms such as ITunes. We increasingly buy books, music and any other kind of digital media online over accounts such as ITunes. Of course you do not want your collection of digital media to be simply wasted – but bequeathing it to your loved ones could be difficult. Why? Because you do not actually own the song, book, etc. You simply purchased a licence to use the digital media – which sadly is not transferable. Another reason why it is important to share a list of passwords with your loved ones – once you are dead!

Just looking at the 4 examples above it’s clear that each company have their own set of rules, which your family will have to deal with if you haven’t made any plans. In some cases your family will never be able to deactivate or gain access to your online data if you did not think of sharing your passwords in your will. This can end in real distress for the people you leave behind.

So as long as legislation is limping behind and there is no standard on dealing with a dead person’s online data and assets – it is important to share your passwords with a trusted person or executor through your will. This will allow things to be dealt with smoothly and give your family and friends the opportunity to grieve instead of having to deal with your death on multiple platforms and online accounts.

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