Digital Legacy: What will you pass along when you pass away?

Digital Legacy: What will you pass along when you pass away?

Digital Legacy: What will you pass along when you pass away?

No matter how you choose to spend your time on Earth, you will inherently leave behind a legacy. This includes what you’ve created that you will pass along (wealth, assets, knowledge) and what you stood for or represented while you were alive (strong work ethic, humility, etc…). Leaving some sort of legacy to friends and family is partly what makes life worth living.

However, how do the new digital environments which we spend a large amount of our time fit into our legacies? How will one’s Digital Legacy live on?

Leaving a Digital Legacy

Back in October of 2016, I published an article on LinkedIn that spurred someone to comment some hateful things – cursing me out and telling me to stop writing.

I’ve got thick skin so it didn’t bother me. But, it was so uncharacteristic of an executive on LinkedIn (the world’s professional platform) that it got me thinking.

Every action on public platforms contributes to our Digital Legacy. These actions are recorded and archived.

Future kids and grandkids are going to be tech-savvy at a level we may not comprehend right now. A regular Tuesday night might be scraping their grandpa’s Twitter account for all his public Tweets – seeing how he spent his years online.

Tell me, how will that grandparent explain to his grandkid the time he called someone on YouTube a “fat bucket of fried chicken”?

Those precious, “gather round” story-time moments that grandchildren share with their grandparents are soon going to include the actions we take in digital environments.

My grandpa was a fairly secretive man. The few moments that someone got him to open up about his past, we all got quiet and listened because we knew there was a great story coming.

Today, digital environments record many of these great stories for us. Vacations, activities, and everyday pictures are logged on Instagram. Visual conversations are logged on Snapchat. Raw emotions are logged on Twitter rants.

The beauty of a Digital Legacy is that it’s extremely transparent. And also acts as a time capsule.

From here on out, digital environments will provide a lot of clarity to the identity of a person’s life. But, there’s more to a Digital Legacy than stories.

Inheriting a Digital Estate

Over a lifetime, we accumulate “things” and “stuff”. Some of it valuable, some useless, and some priceless. Increasingly, more of these accumulated assets are becoming digital.

You might have dozens of email, social media, and other accounts, a few digital content subscriptions (Netflix, Apple Music, etc.), and hundreds of personal media files (pictures and videos).

These are assets you may want to pass along to family or friends.

For me, I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars building a massive archive of digital music, ebooks, and online movies. No different than a box of records, a shelf of books, and a cabinet of DVDs – I want my Digital Estate to be passed along and enjoyed by others once I pass away.

Unfortunately, there aren’t simple ways of doing so. One proposed law, the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (FADA) aims to make digital asset transfer legal. But, it’s far from being passed.

Additionally, considering a Last Will & Testament eventually becomes publicly available, the last thing you want to do is bequeath your passwords over this public document.

Some of the larger online entities (GoogleFacebookLinkedInInstagram) provide options for people to memorialize the accounts of the deceased. But, it’s somewhat of an arduous process and mostly prevents others from taking over the account.

Also, this doesn’t account for the thousands or millions of other accounts out there that don’t have these options.

Nonetheless, we can agree that our loved ones’ digital assets shouldn’t pass away with them. Preserving social media accounts and other services is a way of preserving great memories.

As we accumulate more digital assets, the need for Digital Estate management will grow. We can expect to see services pop up in the coming decade that makes the process of Digital Inheritance easier.

The Collective Legacy

One of the highest behavioral motivators is wanting to be remembered, to make a lasting accomplishment in the name of society. It’s partially what fuels innovation and economy.

But, it is far from foolproof. And one of the greatest creatives of our time, Kanye West, brings up some very interesting questions:

“What makes us be so selfish and prideful… what keeps us from wanting to help the next man? What makes us be so focused on a personal legacy as opposed to the entire legacy of a race?”

The pride we take in wanting a legacy for our name often forces us to forget about the person standing next to us.

I’m a firm believer that dedicating your time to the goals of others pays huge returns for your own missions… As long as you aren’t helping others to help yourself.

Balance the time you invest in building your legacy and the collective legacy of our race because they are equally important to leading a fulfilling life.

The digital entropy of death: what happens to your online accounts when you die

The digital entropy of death: what happens to your online accounts when you die

Unless you’re planning on having your mind jammed inside some sort of computer chip, eventually mortality will catch up and you’re going to have to work out what you’ll do with all of your online accounts. When it’s time to shuffle off this mortal coil, you might, theoretically, be slightly annoyed if someone is using your dormant accounts to spam viagra or fake Twitter apps. The sad reality is, when we go, we leave behind a potentially terrifying amount of accounts lying around in the digital ether, and not all of them may be as secure as one would like.

Even if they’re locked down with multiple security steps, someone could break into a database and pilfer insecure information from the back end. We have the very odd situation of there being a digital zombie sleeper army, ready and willing to come back and cause all sorts of security/spam issues worldwide.

Is there anything we can do about it? Can relatives ensure we don’t come back as some sort of bizarre cyber-horror? Do websites and services have any process in place for this strange new world of accounts that are, to coin a phrase, just taking a nap?

Surprisingly, help is at hand more often than not. First, though, we need to have a think about some sort of tally.

There’s (not) security in numbers

Passwords are a great way to gauge how many accounts we have personally. Check out any number of “How many accounts do we have” articles going back several years. Very handy! An unintended side effect of said articles and their number crunching is that we can also use that data to try and map out the kind of problem we may be facing with orphaned accounts. The average UK consumer alone has something like 188 online accounts, and that figure is from 2015—no doubt the number continues to rise as every aspect of our lives winds its way online.

Speaking of number crunching: 151,000 people die every day. Something like 55 million people die every year. Even if just 10 percent of the 500,000 people who die in the UK annually had 188 accounts each, that’d still be 94 million accounts suddenly abandoned—more than enough to cause a spot of bother. Then throw in the accounts of the recently deceased from around the world, and the numbers are suddenly a bit panic-inducing.

I’d be surprised if scammers don’t set aside a little time for targeting obviously abandoned profiles. Aside from regular postings asking for help on Facebook due to compromise of dead people’s logins [1], [2], there’s also the problem of “cloning.” Once you start poking around this subject, problems are everywhere.

Setting the tripwires

Of course, there are a fair few security-centric things we can do now to ensure we make it as hard as possible for those going on a spot of dormant hunting. Multi-factor authentication, password managers, good browsing practices, blockers, security tools…in short, everything you’re hopefully doing by default anyway. It’ll all help to keep your accounts in lockdown when the time comes that you no longer require them.

Additionally, not all services will be around forever—the endless churn of the web will see to that. Today’s social network is tomorrow’s “bought out and turned into something for delivering pizzas by taxi.” One can assume a large portion of all but the biggest accounts you have will, eventually, crash and burn. Not good for them, not good for people using the service, but definitely good for anyone no longer fussed about the paradigm shift in pizzas and taxis.

As time has passed, digital providers have realised they need to start offering some options for relatives of the recently deceased—one can’t assume everyone knows their security stuff, and many relatives would be hugely distressed to see accounts of a dead relative tweeting about healthcare plans or posting movie promos to Instagram.

Many sites now offer a way for relatives and executors to memorialise, or just delete, an account. In other circumstances, services would rather you ” self-manage” and plan ahead for your own demise (cheerful!) by setting a ticking timer. If the account is inactive for the specified length of time, then into the great digital ether it goes. These are useful options to have available.

While a lot of services don’t openly advertise what to do in the event of a death on their website, they will give advice should you contact them, whether social network, email service, or web host. When there’s no option available, though, people will forge their own path and take care of their so-called “digital estate planning” themselves.

The D.I.Y. approach

What do you do if the visible services your loved ones used don’t do the whole “death resolution” thing? Worse, how do you even know about the potentially hundreds of logins they have sitting around elsewhere? Sure, you might know about the really obvious ones but people don’t typically draw up a list of the weird, wonderful (and possibly not wonderful) services they used and hand it to their next of kin.

What we are seeing is people making use of password managers in ways other than having a convenient and secure login to services; they’re also creating back up accounts for their digital departure. In these situations, a fully fleshed out password manager, containing all of a person’s logins, has its access stored in a secure place and given to a close relative. Of course, the relative receiving this digital treasure trove is going to be extremely trusted—they probably don’t want to hand it to that crazy uncle who shouts at family gatherings.

The manner in which they hand over the password manager account is incredibly important, too. Is it a physical thing? A login written on paper? Something digital? Is it secure? Maybe it’s a hard drive. Is it encrypted? How will it be updated with new logins/ changes to passwords? Does the relative live nearby if it’s physical? If they live far away, would something purely online make more sense?

These are all important questions that need to be thrashed out long before handing account information over, and it’s probably a bit much to put the onus on the recipient to start bolting security gates you may have left wide open. Do some pre-handover diligence, and make some time to ensure everything is locked down tight. If there’s anything hugely important you need them to know, tell them in advance—don’t hand over a hard drive and ask them why they didn’t make a backup two months after the thing has fallen into the bathtub.

Digital family heirlooms

That’s the grim stuff out of the way. What happens to accounts you’ve invested a ton of money in? You may have bought a lot of digital purchases tied to certain platforms. Games on Steam, or music on iTunes or Spotify—they’re all tied to specific logins in your name. When you die, what happens to the purchases? In the real world, you end up with a ton of dusty boxes. Online? Those “boxes” will be taken away from you.

In an ideal scenario, you could nominate someone to take over a digital account and they’d inherit the purchases. But legally, when you go, so do your files (in as much as anything you can’t download and keep locally is gone forever.) That’s because you’re buying into a license to use a thing, as opposed to buying the thing itself. I did have a whole pile of text for this bit, but as it turns out, the ground has already been thoroughly covered.

Logan’s (video game) Run

Logan’s Run, the sci-fi movie from 1976 where everyone has a timer ticking down till they hit the age of 30, is weirdly relevant to this discussion because ticking timers are most definitely going to be a thing. See, there’s nothing stopping someone from passing on a login to a family member so they can continue to make use of all the purchased content. The platform owners are never going to know about it. However, as those wheels of time continue to crank, at some point somebody is going to wonder why Steve McHuman is still playing games at the ripe old age of 123.

This is why I predict that at some point, all of our digital accounts tied to financial purchases will have some sort of average human lifespan timer attached to them. The moment it wanders past 100 or so years? Poof, gone. I mean, this is better than being chased down by a Sandman once you hit 30, but it does mean your digital purchases will almost certainly expire at a later date—and that’s assuming the services of today are even around in 100 years time.

Many are the grim ways that lead to his cybercave: all dismal

Well, not quite so dismal. Sorry, Milton. We’re in a bit of an odd situation at the moment, as we’re now well into the point in history where we have the last generation to know life before 24/7 Internet. For many, being online is an absolutely crucial resource of existence. Meanwhile, Internet of Things technology ensures it continues to leap from behind a screen to the real world. We can’t escape it, no more than we can somehow skip around Milton’s cave, and the younger generations absolutely will demand reforms to the way we think about digital content, ownership, and inheritance.

I just hope I’m around to see it. And if I’m not? Please, don’t touch my stuff.

This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog post authored by Christopher Boyd. Read the original post at: Malwarebytes Labs

Digital Estates - Why you should plan your online legacy

Digital Estates – Why you should plan your online legacy

Despite the ever-growing role of social media and online services in people’s lives, they often neglect to include their digital estates in their estate planning. This can lead to headaches and complications for heirs during an already difficult time, and raises the question of who inherits the digital data. Leaving instructions and information about a digital estate can help to avoid many issues surrounding this still rather new but important reality.

With more and more people using the internet to tweet, email, manage their bank accounts and make purchases, many records, photos and important business documents are now saved on remote servers instead of being kept in a filing cabinet or a shoebox. Keeping track of one’s own online activities and the many passwords that are created over decades can be challenging enough. For heirs, the problem is even more complex. Not only do they often not have the passwords to a deceased’s accounts, they usually have little to no idea of the extent of a deceased’s online activities.

More than just a Facebook profile
Digital estates consist of digital assets, digital devices and digital accounts. Digital assets are data in all formats, including emails, documents, audio, video, and social media and networking content. Digital devices are the electronic devices such as laptops and smartphones used for this data. The third element, digital accounts, are electronic systems for dealing with information. These provide access to digital assets and include email accounts, social networks, and online banking and shopping accounts.

When a person dies, it is important to identify and secure digital estates quickly in order to prevent fraud and loss, as well as protect the privacy and personal history of the deceased.

Who inherits a digital estate?
Legislation in most countries has failed to keep pace with technological developments, leading to uncertainty as to how digital estates should be passed on to heirs. In Switzerland, for example, digital data is not specifically regulated. It can therefore not be assumed that heirs will automatically inherit data into their ownership, and there is no legal basis upon which to request that data be released or profiles deleted. Further to this, much data are covered by the right to privacy. Although this usually expires when a person dies, it can again be difficult for the deceased’s family to claim entitlement to the data or have it deleted. Also, even if heirs have passwords to digital accounts, it can be considered a breach of the terms and conditions to log in with them if no prior arrangements have been made.

This problem is compounded by the fact that many internet platform providers and social media companies are based abroad. As a result, the legal relationships with users often come under foreign jurisdiction, which means that any request relating to data must, in addition to the estate’s own law, be verified under foreign law. Further to this, data is subject to the terms and conditions of the individual providers. These differ greatly from one provider to the next, and in the absence of precise instructions from users, default provisions tend to be applied.

For individuals resident in Switzerland for example, the situation is clearer for data stored on digital devices: these are inherited along with the device. Heirs of such devices also inherit any assets such as credit balances on PayPal or Bitcoin accounts. Data that are protected by copyright, such as computer programs, or photos with artistic value, can also be inherited.

Simple solutions for complex problems
Many platforms, such as Facebook and Gmail, allow users to give instructions in the event of their death. This enables a person to determine how they want their accounts and data handled. In practice, however, few people provide such instructions. And even if they do, they have only addressed one segment of their digital estate. In addition to giving such instructions, there are other measures that can be taken.

Managing one’s passwords is one way to ensure that heirs who are to be granted access can do so readily. This requires maintaining a secured, up-to-date list of accounts, user IDs and passwords for all databases and profiles. Another option is to incorporate access into a will: users can nominate an heir or other person to handle their digital estate and specify what is to happen to the data. This can include a separate list of the services used and the passwords for each of these. And finally, special legal authorisations such as an advanced care directive can simplify the desired handling of digital data in the event of incapacity.

These precautions will save heirs time and energy when confronted with this growing issue, and help ensure the deceased’s digital legacy will live on according to their wishes.

Estate planning for your digital assets

Estate planning for your digital assets

What will happen to your Facebook account when you die? What about all your photos shared on social media, your texts with loved ones, or documents on cloud-storage systems? In just the two-year period from 2012 to 2014, humans produced more data than in all of human civilization before that – and the pace is only accelerating.

It’s not clear what people’s digital presences will look like in years to come, but it’s sure that an increasing number of people will be creating and accumulating growing reams of data until the day they die. But then what?

The law is very clear about handling paper documents and other physical property when someone dies. But as a law professor at Drake Law School who has been studying property transfers for years, I’ve seen that laws, regulations and court rulings are only recently trying to figure out how to handle the ever-changing realm of digital technology. So far, in most cases the information is controlled by the companies that store it – regardless of what users want or direct to happen after their death.

Law catching up with technology

Many people have had email and other digital accounts for decades, some stretching back to the early pioneers in the 1960s. But large numbers of average people really only began creating significant digital footprints in the early part of the 21st century. Facebook and Gmail began operations in 2004; YouTube started in 2005Twitter launched in 2006; the iPhone came out in 2007.

Almost a decade later, a group of lawyers from around the country developed a draft uniform law they encouraged all 50 states to adopt, which would allow people to specify in their wills that the executor of their estate can access their email and social media profiles. So far, 39 state legislatures have adopted it and seven more are considering it this year.

The uniform law doesn’t specify – and courts have not yet been asked to rule on – exactly how that access should happen. So for the moment, a dead person’s executor must contact the company behind each digital platform to determine how to get into the person’s accounts.

In states that haven’t passed this law, companies themselves can decide whether to allow loved ones access to a late relative’s digital assets. Yahoo, for example, is notorious for terminating an account upon a user’s death and forbidding access afterward.

The company’s refusal to grant access to surviving family members is being challenged in Massachusetts, a state that has not adopted the uniform digital assets law. In October 2017, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that an executor could consent to the disclosure of emails on behalf of the dead person whose estate was being managed. The case is back before a lower court to decide on other issues, including whether the estate will be able to access the account despite Yahoo’s terms of service agreement.

The role of privacy

With so many legal issues yet to be decided, people should be sure they include digital assets in their estate planning and encourage their loved ones to do the same.

Access to the email of a person who has died may be the most important to unlock: Messages and images are likely to be emotionally important. In addition, banking, utilities and other accounts are often linked to an email address; gaining online access to those can help administer a person’s estate.

Of course, it’s important to protect the privacy of a person who has died – despite the general legal assumption that a dead person no longer has privacy that needs protecting. The uniform state law does this by requiring a person to have left specific written permission for an executor to access an email account.

Making plans for yourself

To prepare yourself for a digital afterlife, the first task is to state, in writing, what you want to happen to your digital assets. Create a list of the accounts in your name, and determine which ones you want your executor to access – and which should be deleted.

Crucially, do not list usernames or passwords in your will, because a person’s will becomes a public document upon their death. Instead, consider recording access information for these accounts in a safe place – like password management software – and leave instructions for your executor to find them.

It’s not yet clear whether credits and purchases with digital media accounts (like the Google Play Store or iTunes) or online reward account points can be transferred when their holder dies. The only solution for now may be to leave your executor with instructions on how to access the value stored in those accounts – and back up the media on external hard drives stored in a safe place.

Finally, check with the companies whose online services you use to see if they provide their own method to transfer assets at death. For example, Google has pioneered a method for its users to indicate what they want to have happen to their account if they don’t access it for several months.

By engaging in some simple estate planning, you can protect your privacy as well as ease the management of your estate after your death. Plan for your digital assets in the same way you would any other valuable tangible or intangible asset. After all, digital assets are today’s shoeboxes of photos, letters and other mementos. Planning can preserve your legacy in its digital form.