The Mess You Leave Behind And How To Take Care Of It

The Mess You Leave Behind And How To Take Care Of It

This is a story in Yahoo Tech Here’s What Happens to Your Data After You Die that we will all face – and it becomes more of a messy reality for each up-and-coming generation.

“Emru was indeed someone I knew. A talented writer, a good friend, and a true mensch, beloved by many. He was also dead. He had succumbed to leukemia a few years earlier at the age of 39.

Yet there he was, smiling at me just like he did in life. But it wasn’t just a social media account that survived Emru. There’s his personal blog, where he recounted in sometimes-painful detail his battle against cancer, and his professional one, featuring some of the hundreds of articles he wrote on technology and animation. There’s his Flickr account, featuring photos of him in the hospital. There’s the site his family set up in an effort to find a stem cell donor, which ultimately proved unsuccessful. Today, nearly seven years to the day of Emru’s passing, he still receives email at his pobox.com account, maintained by his widow, Vicky.

In addition to leaving a mark on everyone he met, Emru also left a footprint on the Internet, which his family struggled to deal with because they did not have access to all of his accounts.

This is a problem all of us on the Internet will encounter eventually, whether we want to think about it or not.

What can go wrong? Lots. Your loved one may have died leaving photos and videos behind that you can’t get to. He may have locked essential financial or other information away with passwords and not left those with you. She may have online financial accounts with money or credits leftover, or social media accounts that continue to generate painful reminders of her absence.

And, each year, the personal information of more than 2.5 million dead people is abused by identity thieves, according to ID Analytics.”

A logical but wrong assumption is to leave your passwords and digital assets in your will. Evan Carrol from TheDigitalBeyond.com says “Don’t insert login information into your will,  those documents usually become part of the public record, allowing any stranger to gain access to your accounts.”

This is why you need PassingBye.com. Assigning each website you have an account with, to specific individual(s) with instructions insures you have control over each and every site after your passing. For example, you might want to make sure your Twitter account is shut down while your facebook wall is a memorial. You might want one person to take over your email and another to share your flicker photos with family and friends before closing it. With so many variable terms with each site and laws within each state PassingBye is truly your best form of “Digital Life” insurance.

Digital death is still a problem. A widow’s battle to access her husband’s Apple account

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: What happens to your

Experts are urging us all to think about what will happen to our ‘digital footprint’ after we die

Many of us turn to the virtual world to mark major life events – graduating from school, scoring a promotion, getting married or having a baby.

But what happens to your “digital legacy” after you die?

Grieving family members and friends would no doubt be aghast to come across a nasty comment about a departed loved one on their Facebook page or see a troll attacking their Twitter account.

So as morbid as it may sound, lawyers and web experts are urging people to include specific instructions in their will about what happens to the digital footprint they leave.

“In an age where digital data has increasing economic and sentimental value, it is sensible to leave clear instructions in your will about what should happen to, for example, social media content after death,” said Robert Rhoda, a dispute resolution lawyer with law firm Smyth & Co in association with RPC.

Our digital afterlife is not something most people think of and tech companies are still grappling with policies to adequately deal with the issue.

It’s a relatively new area of the law, Rhoda said, adding that people should consider leaving a “digital legacy” to avoid difficulties for those left behind to deal with the issue.

“Administering digital assets and social media content is a novel legal issue,” he said.

“Leaving a ‘digital legacy’ enables your personal representatives to liaise with service providers in line with your wishes. This is preferable to leaving passwords with relatives, which can cause them, often unwittingly, to breach laws related to the misuse of computers and data privacy.”

In Britain, the Law Society of England and Wales has started advising people to leave instructions on what should happen to their social media and other online accounts when they die in order to make it easier for family members to piece together their digital estate.

But Rhoda warned that the virtual world was not afforded the legal status of tangible assets.

“Social media accounts don’t have the same legal status as fixed assets, which form part of an estate, and it is not always clear who ‘owns’ them or, rather, who has the right to access them, once the user has died,” Rhoda said.

In recent years, several cases have emerged to test the law.

In 2005, the mother of a US soldier who died in Iraq went through a long legal battle with Yahoo to gain access to his email account.

In 2011, the family of a 15-year-old boy who committed suicide spent years in and out of court to gain access to his Facebook account, arguing that they wanted to see if there were any hints on his page that would explain his decision to take his own life.

In Australia, a recent study by a government body that specialises in wills and guardianship found that while nine out of 10 people have social media accounts, just one in five have spoken to their loved ones about what should happen to their online profiles when they die.

Lokman Tsui, assistant professor of communications at Chinese University, says there needs to be more awareness of the issue.

“This is something that is really critical but that not a lot of people have given much thought to,” said Tsui, whose research areas include new media and how policies should deal with emerging technologies.

“Some of our most private thoughts and conversations are in our emails and social networks but very few people have thought about what happens to that stuff when they die. This is a new area and there are no ‘norms’ that have crystallised about it.”

The topic raises a raft of issues involving data privacy, ownership and the security of a dead person’s account.

Tsui, who used to work at Google as head of free expression for the Asia-Pacific region, said the search engine introduced an “inactive account manager” last year. The feature allows the account holder to give other people access to their Google profile after they die.

Facebook, which has 1.3 billion users, offers two options: the account can be deleted permanently upon the family’s request or it can be converted into a memorial profile.

When an account is memorialised, sensitive information such as contact details and status updates are removed. No one can log into the account but friends and family can leave posts on the wall in remembrance.

Jed Brubaker, an academic at the University of California, Irvine who is researching death, identity and social networks, said this Facebook option was a double-edged sword.

“Memorialised profiles can be powerful places where the deceased’s social network can gather and memorialise the life of their friend,” he said.

“But in my research, unexpected encounters with deceased profiles has been the most troubling aspect of post-mortem profiles continuing to exist on Facebook.

“People can stumble across posts made to post-mortem profiles in their ‘newsfeed’, mixed in with other casual social media content. These encounters can be alarming, especially when a person is not expecting to see this kind of content.”

In its policy, Facebook says it tries to prevent memorialised accounts from appearing in ways “that may be upsetting to the person’s friends and family”.

A spokesman for Facebook, which declined to reveal how many profiles have been memorialised, said they “give people a platform to remember and celebrate the life of their loved ones after their passing”.

Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, has a similar policy to its mother company.

LinkedIn has an online form that allows a profile of a dead person to be removed and Twitter’s policy says an account can be deactivated by an immediate family member or someone who has been authorised to act on behalf of the estate.

Yahoo, which is popular in Hong Kong, will deactivate an account once staff can verify documents such as a death certificate. Access to the account for third parties is not allowed.

A spokesman for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data said that under the city’s laws, personal data was defined only as information which related to a living person.

“When the records relate to a deceased person and no living individual, they do not contain personal data” and were not subject to data protection laws, he said.

Two years ago, Hong Kong lawyer Ryanne Lai Hiu-yeung co-founded an internet start-up called Perpetu to tackle the issue.

Services offered include sending farewell messages on Twitter when you die, the deletion of your emails or their transfer to an authorised person, and deletion of your Facebook account.

The business is still operating but Lai says she is no longer actively promoting it. About 2,000 people signed up and about half were from Hong Kong.

“Most of them are in the ‘internet generation’ so I won’t say they are too young to think about death,” Lai said. “To me, this is more about life than death – it’s about how much you treasure your online presence and content that you create on a day-to-day basis.”

Richard Norridge, of law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, says the intrinsic value of our digital assets is still unexplored territory and someone’s digital legacy can come in many forms.

“It may be music or films held online, virtual currency or perhaps online accounts,” he said.”For many, it still does not form part of their thinking when they prepare their will, perhaps because those engaged in estate planning concentrate on the assets of greatest value.”

Norridge said Facebook’s memorialisation option was a fraught one. “The account is preserved in that it can still be viewed, but no one can log into that account and accounts cannot be modified. Thus if unwelcome comments are posted, they are memorialised, too,” Norridge said.

Have you thought about your digital afterlife?

Have you thought about your digital afterlife?

Have you thought about your digital afterlife?

When I was younger I dreamed of writing books. To me it was the one tangible way a person really lived on after death. Your words, your thoughts, your characters live on well beyond your years. If you were prestigious enough there might be classes about you at the university level, books would be written about your technique. There would be movies and remakes created around your books and your characters would be the fodder of countless spin-off novels. To me it was all very glamorous. Today you don’t need to be an amazing writer to have your words and thoughts live on after you die. All you need is an online identity. (Sorry for the morbid topic I like talking about death.)

The digital afterlife, as it is being called, is now the subject matter of one book and countless websites and blogs. All of these mediums attempt to answer the same questions – what happens to your online identity after you die? How can you preserve this identity? Who should you appoint as an online executor of your digital life?

Various social media companies have policies about what happens to your things upon death. Your Yahoo e-mail account, for example, is non-transferrable. So if you never told anyone your password while alive they will not be able to access it when you are gone. (Better make sure my family knows my password since all my half-written manuscripts are sitting in my yahoo drafts folder.) Twitter and YouTube on the other hand are willing to work with the family members of the deceased person to transfer the account.

While some of this makes sense to me, some of the programs currently being developed are attempting to prolong life, even if just in a digital form. For example, one sitevirtualeternity.com will allow you to create an avatar that can be trained to think, talk and act just like you in order to live on after you die. While you are six-feet under your avatar will be able to talk to relatives and friends and answer questions just like you would in real life. What?! I mean, really what?!

Life is precious and beautiful but it is also finite. It ends; the world keeps rolling on. New life is born new technology is created and you are gone, not there to experience it and that is the way it is supposed to be.

Sure, maybe you want your family to be able to login into your facebook account to access all the photos you’ve uploaded over the years. Maybe they will make a book out of your blog entries, or turn your ramblings into a best-seller. But trying to prolong your online life because you can’t let go of this life seems extreme.

Would you appoint an online executor of your online information? Or would you be content to let all the accounts go dormant when you do?

Protecting your afterlife in the digital realm

Protecting your afterlife in the digital realm

Even when it isn’t Halloween, it can be a scary to think of how much of our lives we live online. Scarier still, perhaps, to think of the digital consequences once we sign off for good. Here’s David Pogue of Yahoo Tech:

Used to be, you knew what to do with all the memorabilia of your life. You’d put it in a box to give to your kids, or you’d write it into your will.

But these days, the most complete record of your life may not be in boxes; it may be online.

All those photos on Flickr. Videos on YouTube. Daily events on Facebook. Thoughts on Twitter. What happens to all that stuff, when you move on to the great cyber café in the sky?

Evan Carroll is an expert on what happens to our online stuff when we die. “We have entered this time as a society where we’re a bit ahead of our laws and our policies with respect to our digital property,” he said.

Carroll and his coauthor maintain a blog, and they’ve even written a book, “Your Digital Afterlife.”

“Some states have laws, some states don’t,” said Carroll. “Some people put these things in their wills now. Some people don’t. So there are so many different things that could happen.”

Nobody crashed into that messy state of affairs harder than John Berlin.

Earlier this year, on Facebook’s 10th anniversary, it offered every member a beautiful, one-minute musical montage of his or her Facebook life.

Jesse Berlin had died in 2012, and his father, John, dearly wanted to see his son’s montage video.

“Only problem with that was, you had to get on his page to request it. I didn’t have access to his page, I didn’t know his password,” John told Pogue.

So he had a desperate, great idea: he made a YouTube video.

“I took my iPhone, I propped it up on a picture against a wall, and I just poured my heart out on it to Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg.”

“And we can’t access his Facebook account. I’ve tried emailing and different things, but it ain’t working. All we want to do is see his movie. That’s it.”

Three million people watched his plea.

“And by the end of the day,” said Berlin, “Facebook called me.”

Facebook gave John access to his son’s video — and further improved its existing policies. If your loved one passes away, you can ask for that Facebook account to be what’s called “memorialized.”

“Whatever privacy settings that were in place at the time that the account was memorialized, they allow those to persist,” said Carroll. “Your Facebook profile can become a memorial to you, and can be a place for communal bereavement where they share messages.”

On Google, you can specify in advance exactly what should happen if Google doesn’t hear from you for a few months.

“You can ask them to pass information to another individual,” said Carroll. “You can ask them to delete the account. You can set up an auto-responder to your Gmail account: ‘Hey, I’m no longer checking this account,’ for whatever reason.”

“‘Hey, I’m no longer alive!'” said Pogue.

“That’s a strange email to write!” laughed Carroll.

Already, about 30 million Facebook accounts belong to dead people. To some, that’s a business opportunity. There are now websites that, upon your death, automatically send your list of passwords to someone you’ve specified.