Digital Coming of Age and digital legacy

Digital Coming of Age and digital legacy

Digital Coming of Age and digital legacy
With the latest stage of AVG’s year-long study into the role of the internet in the upbringing of children and teens today, Digital Diaries: Coming of Age examines the teenage years (14-17) and discusses the potential harm that social networking activity could do to their future job prospects.

What we post on social networks now, can have a positive or negative impact on college, career or dating prospects in the future. What do you do to protect yourself from possible problems? How do you stay away from online situations that could reflect badly on you?

We took to our 950,000+ Facebook fans for answers about ways to protect yourself, both on Facebook and on other social networks in general:

If you wouldn’t say it in real life, don’t say it online.

I lock down my profile and only let my “friends” on here see my profile and wall. Everyone else only gets to see my picture and the “add as friend” button.

Control who can see your posts. If you see any old posts on your wall that could make for a bad situation in the present, go back and delete as many as you can.

Some things are meant to be private, it’s best if you keep them that way.

The world is full of gossipers and grapevines so only give them what you are happy with.

Remember, anything that you put on Facebook is permanent! The new Timeline feature is a definite reminder of that!

Be careful about which apps you install and which privileges you give them. Allowing apps to post on your behalf might lead to unwanted messages being sent “from you”.

It’s not just about status updates, keeping an eye on photos that you’ve been tagged in is also important. Evidence of “carefree behavior” might have a negative impact on your reputation.

What do you do to maintain a good standing on Facebook and other social networks? Come and join in the debate with our Facebook Community or on Twitter.

Google Searching for Answers to Digital Legacy Problems

The digital legacy that a deceased person leaves behind has been a much-talked-about subject in the estates world in recent years.  See, for example, blogs on the subject by Moira VisoiuSaman Jaffery or Nadia Harasymowycz.  There’s a March Hull on Estates podcast about this, and another from July 2011.

While there have been some legislative and judicial developments in some jurisdictions (see Nebraska’s Bill 783 for an example), it has largely been left to private industry to resolve the problems created when a person passes away leaving a large digital footprint behind.

Fortunately, Google has stepped up to the plate and introduced a new policy to resolve this issue with respect to its services.  Google’s new Inactive Account Manager feature takes leaps forward towards resolving digital legacy issues.

Called a “digital will” by some media sources including the Toronto Star, the Inactive Account Manager allows users to manage what happens to their Google-related digital assets on death, or on prolonged account inactivity.  Users may set a period of time of inactivity (three, six, nine, or twelve months), after which Google will delete their data.  Before anything is deleted, Google will notify you by email or by text message to your cell phone.  If users would prefer that their data be preserved, there is an option to have some or all of it sent to trusted contacts.  The services to which the service applies include +1s, Blogger, Contacts and Circles, Drive, Gmail, Google+ Profiles, Pages and Streams, Picasa Web Albums, Google Voice, and Youtube.

This service is a clever and easy to use way to manage digital assets.  It does raise a number of questions, however.  How does this policy interact with legislation and case law about digital assets in jurisdictions that have these policies?  Will Facebook, or other online services follow suit and prepare similar policies?  Does an estate trustee under a will in Ontario have the authority (or the responsibility) to collect your digital assets from the person named on your Inactive Account Manager?

Perhaps the answers to these questions will become clear with time.  In the interim, it appears that we are left with a patchwork of policies created by different online service providers with different intentions and different philosophies.  Consider, for example, _LIVESON, a service that analyzes a user’s Twitter habits and generates automated tweets for him or her after death.  Control is placed in the hands of an “executor” who manages your _LIVESON “will”.  Although somewhat eerie, this is an interesting way to ensure that a person’s online presence not only persists after death, but continues to develop and grow.

If you are a Google user, it may be worth checking out the Inactive Account Manager and configuring your settings.  The photos, blogs, friends and videos left behind on a user’s death may mean a lot to grieving loved ones.

When updating an estate plan, digital assets are an important aspect to consider.  Lawyers should be cognizant of the issues surrounding digital legacies, and should discuss them with their clients.  People planning their wills should think about the intangibles they leave behind as well.  And if you aren’t sure where to find this information, try Google.

Death in Facebook, Facebook and Death - Part One

Death in Facebook, Facebook and Death – Part One

I was about to leave the house when Koby, a Facebook friend of both my brother Tal and mine, sent me a startled message:

Koby Shabaty: “Has someone hacked Tal’s Facebook profile?????”
Of course all other plans were forgotten and I hurried to Tal’s Timeline (his wall) on Facebook. I looked for any signs of vandalizing and found none, much to my relief. I asked Koby what it was that alarmed him.

Koby Shabaty: “I saw he Liked something… I was a bit shocked”.
Oh. That.

Fortunately, READWRITE, a technology blog, had a post titled Why Are Dead People Liking Stuff On Facebook which I bumped into not a week earlier, otherwise I have no idea how I’d have reacted to Koby’s screenshot:

Screenshot of a page being liked by my brother
Koby Shabaty: “Totally surreal, sadly there is no date indication”.
That does look like Tal Liked something after his death.

The Facebook spokesman has an explanation: Those are past Likes that Facebook recycles and posts again. Not unlike Readwrite in this post, I admit I find this explanation not entirely credible, or at least not the only explanation. This page, liked by Tal, was indeed created before Tal had died – had it been created after his death it would have been a solid proof – and I have no way of knowing for sure, but I suspect there’s a different reason.

Statistics claim that three Facebook users die every minute.

From a clip by ‘Life Insurance Finder’, an Australian company, produced 2012
Tzach Ben-Yehuda‏, a lawyer-sociologist whose thesis dealt with anonymity in the web, told me once: “You can’t sell ads to dead people’s profiles on Facebook”, but it’s probably possible to fake their Likes. I don’t know whether it’s a bug or a deliberate malicious act, but I suspect there’s something in Facebook drawing Likes out of profiles.

The next case shows it’s indeed a past Like that’s been brought back, and here’s the reaction of a woman who ran into it – a friend of the deceased:

The Facebook spokesman said that, had the profile been defined as a Memorial profile, this would not have happened; no past Like would be re-used.

Once a user died, there are three options:
A family member contacts Facebook and asks for the profile to be deleted (this is only allowed for family members);
Someone (anyone) reports to Facebook that the user has passed away, which will result in the profile changing to a Memorial profile (as far as Facebook is concerned, no personal relation to the deceased is required, nor should the user’s family be contacted or consulted with);
Nobody informs Facebook that the user no longer lives, and their profile goes on functioning as usual.
When choosing the latter option, Facebook is unaware of the user no longer being alive, and so treats them as usual – including suggesting the user as a friend for other users, or as a potential guest for their events – as happened to me, when Facebook suggested I invite two of my relatives to an event – and my deceased brother.
This hurts, but for me – and this is a personal preference and there are no rights or wrongs in this matter – this is a price worth paying for the profile not turning into a Memorial profile.

On January 2013 Huffington Post published an article titled Death On Facebook Now Common As ‘Death Profiles’ Create Vast Virtual Cemetery, introducing a person who was displeased by a deceased distant friend’s profile remaining untouched:
The comments to those photos contain correspondence between Rohan and Lalit, when the latter was still alive.

Aurora finds Facebook’s constant reminding him of his dead friend disturbing. This might have to do with him being young, or with the fact him and the deceased were not very close – but at any case, he feels uncomfortable with said distant friend’s profile not having become a Memorial profile. For others however, this Facebook presence of the deceased is far from disturbing; it is very welcome.

On April 27th, 2013, I was interviewed for a TV program in Channel 10. Healla Green, Alan Green’s wife, was interviewed to it as well. Her Facebook profile is named A.W – Alan’s Wife – and only after that does her own name appear, Healla Green. In the TV broadcast she tells how connected she felt to her husband’s profile after he had died, and how hard it was for her when Facebook changed it to a Memorial profile (it seems that for her the profile had simply vanished, but from her description I can guess that’s what happened to it). Facebook profiles aren’t deleted unless a family member requests them to be so, and even then it’s never immediate, as shown later in this post. However, since anyone can report anyone as dead – BuzzFeed have already proved this is hardly a challenge in this article, How Almost Anyone Can Take You Off Facebook (And Lock You Out) – I suspect this is what happened; someone was uncomfortable with Alan’s profile still giving the impression that Alan was alive, reported to Facebook of Alan’s death without discussing it with Alan’s wife first – and Healla, the wife, found herself locked out of her husband’s account, seeing as Facebook doesn’t require a family member’s permission to change a profile to Memorial. As Healla put it:

When a profile changes to a Memorial profile it can no longer be found through search engines, friends of friends can no longer view it – only those who are friends already – some of the content is deleted (the choice of what is removed and what remains is Facebook’s) and the account is no longer accessible, even if you have the password.

As explained and recommended in my technical guide, if you have access to the deceased’s Facebook account you should first backup its entire content, seeing as it can become a Memorial profile at any moment and you will no longer be allowed access to it. Following Healla’s case I also recommend to friend-request the deceased with your own Facebook account (open one if you don’t have one already) and approve it from theirs as long as you have access to it – and this way, at least, you will be able to view it even if it’s changed to a Memorial profile. Had Healla read the technical guide at the time, she might have not had to deal with this aspect of the pain, at least.

On April 2013 a Brazil judge ordered Facebook to remove, immediately, the profile of 24 years old deceased Juliana Ribeiro Campos, following her mother’s request. The mother says:

The mother had requested Facebook to remove the profile several times over a few months, and then took legal action.

As we can see, the deceased’s Facebook profile can be as much a source of great comfort as it can be distressing, and that the combination of Facebook and death has many varied aspects. I will review those in my next post in this series.

Changing responses to death in the digital age

Changing responses to death in the digital age

Death in the digital age – what happens to our status updates and selfies after we’ve gone?
Researchers Dr Paul Coulton and Selina Ellis Gray are analysing the ways in which western mourning practices are changing in the modern world thanks to the increasing amounts of personal data we leave online.

Selina Ellis Gray said: “Our deaths are now followed by the slow decay of a massive body of data, which include huge amounts created from regular social media use.”

As part of her interdisciplinary PhD, she is questioning what happens to all our tweets, status updates and selfies after we’ve gone and how can we begin to design for these remains.

Until the social media boom the popular understanding was the public mourning was in retreat in the west, with social and religious traditions no longer having such a uniform influence on the way we say goodbye. But in today’s Facebook age a new form of mourning has emerged. Selina Ellis Gray’s ongoing research explores blogs about grief, memorial pages on Facebook, tributes on Instagram, shrines on twitter, digital scrapbooks and support groups for the bereaved springing up in diverse and highly personal responses to loss. Decades of similar digital content is also decaying, posing new problems to those that are left behind to manage it.

Dr Coulton said: “In today’s digital age, when we die we often leave behind a digital legacy. Relatives are no longer only considering what to do with books, tea sets, vases and toolboxes but they are also thinking about online social remnants such as digital photos, videos, status updates and emails.

“While these ghostly reminders online are enabling new types of mourning practices, they are consequently presenting a number of challenges to the traditional role of custodianship as these remnants of digital life cannot be placed within rooms or on shelves in quite the same way as a piece of jewellery or a lock of hair.

“These remains are searchable, discoverable and open to reinterpretation such that the dead can return unbidden to haunt the living in unexpected ways.”

The threshold between life and death has also become a much more public event with the last status updates and final tweets of victims of events such as the Colorado massacre becoming global news. Selina has documented how such spaces online have become highly visited, with some gathering over 10 million views and daily visitors who consider these places as a positive focus for their loss. She hopes her ongoing research in this emergent area will have an impact on future technology design and also support services. Alongside her thesis, Selina has a number of publications forthcoming in 2014 and will be presenting at this year’s first ‘Death Online Research’ symposium with other leading experts in the field.

Dr Coulton said: “These changing responses to death – and the digital legacy we leave behind – are posing all sorts of new questions and challenges, not only for technology designers and professionals who provide bereavement support but also for society in general.”

What happens to your Facebook profile when you die? [infographic]

What happens to your Facebook profile when you die? [infographic]

Three Facebook users die every minute. That’s 1.78m deceased Facebook accounts in 2011 alone. What happens to your Facebook account after you die? Is Facebook slowly turning into a digital graveyard?
It’s a strange question, and one that, perhaps, only raises more questions, not in the least: Who cares? I’m dead.

As you fill the internet with status updates, personal images and videos, it creates some new, somewhat macabre, digital dilemmas, such as:

– How do you protect your privacy after death?
– How do you maintain your digital legacy?
– Do you want to live forever online?

These are the questions that an Australian life insurance company is trying to get people to ask themselves before they pass into the great unknown.

The company, Life Insurance Finder, has published a guide on how to prepare your digital accounts for after you die, recommending, among other things, the creation of a digital will and the nomination of a digital executor.

In terms of a digital executor, the company suggests the following:

“A physical will covers your wishes for your physical self as well as your physical assets after your death. But what about your digital life? Now that we live almost as much online as we do in the physical world we need to have a plan for managing our digital deaths too. In order to carry out your digital death plan you will need to create a digital will, as well as select a trustworthy digital executor to handle arrangements for your digital assets and digital legacy once you are gone. Just remember not to put the passwords for your digital assets in your actual will as wills are made public at death.”

The company also has listed the death policies for the accounts of its users, including those of PayPal and eBay.

The guide is a fascinating read, especially the bit about “digital resurrections”:

Where do you see yourself in 100 years? We have the opportunity to be the first generation to realistically think about that question. How you are memorialised ‘After Your Final Status Update’ was the title and topic of Adam Ostrow’s presentation to the TED Global 2011 conference. The editor in chief of discussed the possibilities for the one billion of us around the world with social media profiles, as machine learning technology combined with the massive amounts of data we share publicly, makes it entirely possible that you could live digitally forever.

The guide explains how some companies, like That Can Be My Next Tweet and Hunch, can look into your past social networking history and use that data to post tweets or status updates in your personal style and tone, meaning you could essentially live forever online.