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.
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.
“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.”
“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.