Bang! You're dead. Who gets your email, iTunes and Facebook?

Bang! You’re dead. Who gets your email, iTunes and Facebook?

Click here to view original web page at www.theregister.co.uk

Two things in life are certain: death and taxes. and other international corporations have found ways* around the latter, but no one can avoid the former.

In the age of and Google accounts, and with the existence of services such as iTunes where people invest considerable sums in entirely virtual goods, the question needs to be asked: What happens to your online profile and in the event of your passing?

Nobody likes to contemplate their death, but in the analogue world we make arrangements – in terms of a will. So why not include online?

are a huge repository of assets – documents and pictures. iTunes zealots might have invested in libraries stretching to tens of thousands of titles – is that part of the deceased person’s estate?

Not as far as some tech firms are concerned.

There are two parts to dealing effectively with your earthly IT estate: the physical devices and the content of online services. Given the declining cost of hardware, I’d argue the greater value lies in the digital stuff online. Your has residual value and it needs to be treated as a valuable asset.

Obtaining access to online accounts of deceased family members has often been a fraught experience. Just over a decade ago, the argument regarding ownership of digital content came to a head when the family of the soldier Justin Ellsworth sued ! to get access to his email account after his death. ! only handed over the data when ordered by a court, despite being shown proof of Justin’s passing.

In response Yahoo! changed its policy with regard to what happens after death and effectively, when a user passes, so does the account. It’s in the terms of service. Bummer. With regards to other service providers, the way in which they deal with a user’s death varies dramatically. Some providers won’t even entertain the notion of doing anything, the Yahoo! approach.

Other providers will, with proof of passing, present a number of options. Some services even provide a dead man’s switch that will enable your loved ones to gain some degree of account or information recovery after the event.

Google inactive account manager provides a dead-hand mechanism, configurable ahead of time, to allow the contents of an account to either be completely removed or released to up to 10 nominated contacts – assuming they have the required identification for security purposes. To make it crystal clear, your account will not be available for login. Access to the service will not be granted. This process only delivers the content rather than reclaiming the account.

It would also be good manners to let your next of kin/nominated representative know these options are set on your account. To get that email without realising you were the nominated person could be very distressing. The information required to recover an account usually consists of: birth certificate, death certificate, proof of assignment over the account in question.


Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Two things in life are certain: death and taxes. Amazon and other international corporations have found ways* around the latter, but no one can avoid the former.

In the age of Facebook and Google accounts, and with the existence of services such as iTunes where people invest considerable sums in entirely virtual goods, the question needs to be asked: What happens to your online profile and assets in the event of your passing?

Nobody likes to contemplate their death, but in the analogue world we make arrangements - in terms of a will. So why not include online?

Social networks are a huge repository of assets – documents and pictures. iTunes zealots might have invested in libraries stretching to tens of thousands of titles – is that part of the deceased person’s estate?

Not as far as some tech firms are concerned.

There are two parts to dealing effectively with your earthly IT estate: the physical devices and the content of online services. Given the declining cost of hardware, I’d argue the greater value lies in the digital stuff online. Your digital legacy has residual value and it needs to be treated as a valuable asset.

Obtaining access to online accounts of deceased family members has often been a fraught experience. Just over a decade ago, the argument regarding ownership of digital content came to a head when the family of the soldier Justin Ellsworth sued Yahoo! to get access to his email account after his death. Yahoo! only handed over the data when ordered by a court, despite being shown proof of Justin's passing.

In response Yahoo! changed its policy with regard to what happens after death and effectively, when a user passes, so does the account. It's in the terms of service. Bummer. With regards to other service providers, the way in which they deal with a user's death varies dramatically. Some providers won't even entertain the notion of doing anything, the Yahoo! approach.

Other providers will, with proof of passing, present a number of options. Some services even provide a dead man's switch that will enable your loved ones to gain some degree of account or information recovery after the event.

Google inactive account manager provides a dead-hand mechanism, configurable ahead of time, to allow the contents of an account to either be completely removed or released to up to 10 nominated contacts - assuming they have the required identification for security purposes. To make it crystal clear, your account will not be available for login. Access to the service will not be granted. This process only delivers the content rather than reclaiming the account.

It would also be good manners to let your next of kin/nominated representative know these options are set on your account. To get that email without realising you were the nominated person could be very distressing. The information required to recover an account usually consists of: birth certificate, death certificate, proof of assignment over the account in question.

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Next page: We love you too much to let you go

Page:

Tips & corrections

73 Comments


Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

We love you too much to let you go

Microsoft's Outlook.com has no such mechanism. Next of kin can get access to the accounts and have it closed, after proving they have the legal right over the account. No information will be released, though.

What of other popular services?

Facebook appears the most user-friendly policy with regards to working with relatives and even provides a range of options including memorialising a post or removing the account. More information about what happens and what is available can be found here. The creation of a memorialised page is at the sole discretion of Facebook.

Even LinkedIn has a simple removal policy, which can be found here.

The recurring theme, though, is the Yahoo! method seems to win most of the time – perhaps as it is the one that requires the least work on the part of the provider. Twitter only offers the option to have an account deactivated – it doesn't use the word “removed”. The account cannot be accessed. Dropbox has a useful policy that will allow recovery of the files in a deceased user's account. The provider’s policy can be found here.

The supposedly nice Apple has the most severe restrictions. Effectively, that iCloud contract you neglected to read, states that upon death, the contract becomes null and void and the account is deleted. No options to retrieve files. This policy is the same with every i-related cloud offering, including iTunes!

This goes some way to explaining why a number of users are having issues when trying to leave their beloved iDevice to a member of the family. There have been several cases where Apple devices were bequeathed to people, sans unlock code. Despite a huge Twitter set-to, Apple declined to wipe the device, citing security concerns.

There are loopholes around this type of issue. When dealing with such final solutions as death, hacks such as using a backup account details of your next of kin would work, but would you really want to take that risk on something so important?

And what about those files that your family will need, such as contact lists, contracts and such? A knowledgeable IT person will use encryption to protect their information. Just ensure the really important files are stored in a form accessible by others, and they are able to get the passwords.

Dying offline is a serious business. The smart money always advises getting a will drawn up and not leaving things to chance. Most tech firms running online services have remarkably little time for the dying or deceased. That means it's down to you to make sure the last “i”s and the final “t”s are dutifully dotted and crossed. ®

* Perfectly legal avoidance techniques, El Reg is obliged to point out

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

Page:

Tips & corrections

73 Comments


Eleanore

Eleanore

Main curator on Digitaldeathguide. Supported by a bot. Some articles may need to be weeded, don't hesitate to tell me !