Digital Death

Digital Death

Its been almost a month since I last posted here – Summer has been quite busy, trying to FINALLY get my driver’s licence. I wish i could say i have gotten it already, but at this point, its still a work in progress. In the meantime, one issue that has been on my mind for a while now is ‘Digital Death’.

Ever wondered what will become of all your digital information -Instagram photos, videos, Facebook posts, Snapchat, Tweets et al  – when you die?

I never really gave much thought to this issue until i received Facebook notification of a deceased classmate’s birthday. I had almost typed ‘Happy Birthday’ till i suddenly remembered that person had passed away. That got me thinking….

What happens to your digital assets when you die?

As much as we all shudder away from talking about death, let’s face it…. Death is Inevitable!

Say it after me slowly….. Death is Inevitable…..

The world has truly become a digital village. An average person has at least a Facebook account, a Twitter account & an Instagram account – all password-encrypted and containing personal, confidential information of the account holder. Nearly everyone has either one or two email accounts, bank and brokerage accounts, digital purchases and photo sharing integrated into our lives. What many people may not have thought about when creating these social media accounts is what would happen to all the personal data which they have on the accounts when they pass away.

It is quite interesting to read all the materials available on this topic. I found out that one of the first major service providers to create a better way for people to manage their online data when they are gone was Google. In 2013, Google launched a new feature  that makes it easy for individuals to plan how they would like their digital assets to be managed when they die.  Other social sites like Facebook have also,in a bid to ensure the ease of transitioning to its clients, added  a new functionality called ‘Legacy Contacts‘ to allow users to specify who they would like to take care of their account when they pass away. Friends and family of a deceased person can request that the person’s account be memorialized. Once a memorialization request is received, a Legacy Contact is able to manage the account of the deceased. By adding this functionality, Facebook has given its users the choice to decide how they would like their accounts to be managed in the future, when they are gone.

Twitter and LinkedIn, on the other hand, have very similar approaches when dealing with a deceased member’s account. Both would close the account of the deceased person and remove the profile upon request by their  family members/ executor of the estate. Further documentation such as a copy of the deceased’s death certificate may be required for the completion of the request.

A lot of research has gone into and is still going on the management of digital assets after death with more organisations created to help people manage and plan for their digital death. A directory of such organisations can be found on the digital beyond. Some of the organisations provide memorial websites that allows users to invite other friends of the deceased to submit pictures and stories of their lived ones, while others allow you to plan for the unexpected, make your funeral wishes known, maintain your digital legacy and leave good bye messages to loved ones. Some other organisations also offer the possibility of closing down the accounts that you do not wish to pass on to your loved ones such as that old online dating account or porn subscription.  The options available vary and it is quite enlightening to realise that you can plan ahead to safeguard your digital memories and assets before you die.

Here are some tips on protecting your digital assets:

  • Identify and Inventory – Create a list of all online accounts, memberships and subscriptions using a password-protected Excel spreadsheet. Note that compiling this list is itself a risk, so be very security conscious.
  • Choose a ‘trustee’ – Look at your family and friends and select someone to whom you would entrust access to all your online accounts to; It must be someone who you would trust to respect your wishes and carry them out to the letter. You should understand that this is a huge responsibility for the ‘trustee’ and make sure to make their work as easy as possible.
  • Access to the online accounts: As i said earlier, you could start with a password-encrypted account and give your trustee access to the document when needed. There are now countless online services where people can also store the passwords, to be retrieved by the trustee upon the death of the account holder.
  • Set clear, express instructions: Provide the executor of wills with instructions on where to obtain password lists and what should be done with them.

In conclusion, if you have never really given a thought to Digital death, i hope this post stirs your interest and points you in the right direction.