With every website these days wanting us to sign up and have an account for something or other, have you ever wondered what happens to your ‘stuff’ when your digital life is the only one left? A web user can easily have 50 online accounts now, not just limited to social sites like Facebook or Instagram, Twitter, YouTube or LinkedIn.
We’re talking about your email addresses, your bank accounts, where you buy things online like eBay, iTunes, and Amazon. Then there’s Dropbox, online videos, YouTube, subscriptions to news stories and all those animal photos, dating site profiles; the list goes on. They contain personal detail, information about you, your stories, history and opinions, images and videos and other sorts of digital files.
Well, unless you make provisions to have it removed, your digital life lives on after you haven’t. This can at the very least be misleading for acquaintances and distressing for loved ones. But after you’re gone, who owns your online accounts or how can they be removed? Unfortunately the real world of privacy and governance legislation is way behind the fast-moving digital world and it’s still a grey area.
Some US states are just starting to tackle this online quandary while countries like Australia lag behind. Without the proper user names and passwords it can be very difficult for your family to access your accounts – even something as simple as Facebook. But all the Australian Government has to say about it is this:
“Social media networks usually have procedures in place to deal with the accounts of deceased members. As these procedures can differ between networks the best thing to do is to search the ‘help’ section of the network in question if you wish to close an account.”
In June, Facebook active user numbers hit the two billion mark and around 8000 of them die every day.
In June, Facebook active user numbers hit the two billion mark and around 8000 of them die every day. That’s quite a statistic and one that might challenge the networking giant to keep up with requests. However, Facebook will remove an account or turn it into a locked memorial account after a special request by an immediate family member or executor. Twitter will deactivate an account upon request by an estate executor or a verified family member with a copy of the death certificate. And Google has established an inactive account manager which prompts users to decide the fate of their accounts before they die. However, it’s pretty strict and warns that obtaining access to a deceased person’s email account will be possible only “in rare cases”.
In Australia, you can stop most unsolicited email from being sent by registering with the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA) for the ‘do not mail’ service and the big banks have details on their websites about how to close deceased accounts. The consensus about closing other people’s accounts is you’ll probably need to be an immediate family member and or be able to present a copy of the death certificate.
The University of Melbourne has prepared a comprehensive document titled Death and the Internet which explores this area in greater detail. But most experts recommend treating your digital assets like they’re tangible.
Making a list of your accounts along with their passwords and details with your will is certainly a good idea. It will provide you with peace of mind and make life easier for those loved ones you’ve left behind.