Can someone inherit a digital identity? At what point does an Instagram account become a business rather than a personal platform? We have already seen this happen with celebrities after they die; Paul Walker, Nipsey Hussle, and Michael Jackson all still have active Instagram accounts. The deceased rapper, Lil Peep, has faced significant controversy over his social media. As I write this, his most recent Instagram post is advertising new merchandise. While some argue that his family is aiming to continue his legacy, others argue that selling sweaters for $95 USD is simply an easy way to profit off Peep’s death.
But what if a celebrity passed away without the public knowing? Could someone run their accounts feigning that the person was still alive? Let’s take a look at Kylie Jenner – she makes approximately $1.2 million per sponsored Instagram post that she shares to her 197 million followers. In the two minutes it takes you to read this blog, she will have made around $633.53. If Kylie died, could someone inherit her account, followers, and digital personality? Between the power of digital image editing and the sheer number of selfies Kylie has taken, her account could hypothetically be run for years after her death. Kylie Jenner may be temporary, but @kyliejenner is immortal.
Who knows? Maybe this has been happening for years, and they are doing a good job of hiding it. Conspiracy? I think not.
For most of us, celebrity or not, our social media presence is an extension of who we are. While our biological body may have passed on, we continue to survive online. Planning your digital death is more than just a Black Mirror-esque fantasy – it is a current, existing issue. With 10,000 Facebook users dying every day, it is estimated that dead Facebook users could outnumber the living by 2069.
Planning your digital death is still relatively new, and possibilities are still being explored. Esther Earl, a sixteen-year-old girl battling thyroid cancer, shocked her loved ones when she tweeted six months after her death. The tweet read, “It’s currently Friday, January 14 of the year 2010. Just wanted to say: I seriously hope that I’m alive when this posts.” While scheduling posts and updates is a cool way to live on (and freak out your friends), planning your digital legacy is usually much less glamourous. Some key tasks include compiling a list of your digital assets, specifying how you want your social media accounts to be handled, and telling a few trusted people where to find your passwords.
Most social media platforms allow for your account to be deactivated by a loved one after presenting a death certificate. This is essential, because there’s nothing worse than waking up to a reminder to wish your dead aunt Kathy a Happy Birthday. Facebook also has the feature to memorialize a user, freezing their account and protecting the user’s legacy. However, no amount of death certificates can give you access to a deceased person’s account. In 2012, a fifteen-year-old girl was hit by a subway train in Berlin. Her family sued Facebook for access her account to see if the girl was being cyberbullied. Facebook refused access, citing privacy legislation. After 6 years of legal battles, the family was finally granted access, but most people wouldn’t be so lucky. Moral of the story: leave a list of your passwords behind so that your loved ones can save on legal fees, and buy you flowers instead.
Thinking about retirement? Don’t forget about your tech.
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By Anne-Frances Hutchinson
Here’s an open secret about Americans on the cusp of retirement age: They know how to use technology. Having been in the workforce as the digital age gestated from a fever dream into the driver of nearly every aspect of work and life in the developed world, this cohort understands its transformative power at a level digital natives have yet to grasp. Over the next decade, roughly 132 million Americans 50 and older will spend over $84 billion annually on technology.
As they approach retirement, affluent, well educated seniors are still driving technological development, participating in the digital economy as it grows and changes, and preparing for an aging process that will be largely dependent on emerging technologies to increase satisfaction, comfort, and life expectancy.
However, one of the profound changes retirement brings is access to technology. Leaving the workplace can mean losing a wealth of expensive support, from high speed internet connections and the software programs that allow seamless communication, to hardware that can be impossible to afford on a budget. And yes, that includes the person in IT who knows how to convert documents into PDFs. (Here’s another deeply held secret from a boomer: They absolutely know how to do that. They just love to see your reaction when they ask for your help. Eyerolls are always funny.)
Teasing aside, here are five critical considerations to make before transitioning out of the tech rich workplace.
- Make cyber security a priority. The loss of a workplace IT infrastructure means heightened exposure to hacking, so deepening your personal knowledge about security breaches and investing in affordable, personal use security tools is a must. Don’t be put off by any implied condescension you might perceive by seeking simplified help – Internet 101.org is a great place to start the process.
- Forget about remembering passwords. Leaving the office shouldn’t mean swapping strong protection of digital assets for passwords that are easy to remember and a breeze for hackers to exploit. Encrypted password managers such as 1Password provide affordable protection, generous storage, and email support.
- Enroll in autopay. Just because you’re retired doesn’t mean the bills stop. Making sure they get paid automatically, on time, every month will take a huge weight off your shoulders. On the flip side, any income you have still have coming in: social security, a pension, etc., you can arrange to be automatically deposited in the account of your choosing. Being retired means you should be out there enjoying life, not spending several hours a week doing amateur accounting.
- Set up online trading. You want your money to last through a long retirement. Now that you have more time, you might want to take a more hands-on approach to your investments. Services such as Ally Invest and E-Trade make it simple and easy to manage your portfolio and do self-directed trades on a daily basis.
- Compromise smartly. The temptation to sacrifice capability for cost can be very compelling, especially when it comes to smartphones. While there is a fun new crop of flip phones hitting the market that may take you back to the simpler days of flip up and gab, like the updated foldable Motorola Razr, prioritize the features that are most important to you — whether it’s a great camera, the ability to use multiple apps, or mil-std ruggedization — and make sure the phone of your choice makes the grade. You’ll want something that can still keep up with your lifestyle and let you video chat with the grandkids.
- Think before you ditch. Switching away from a “does it all” desktop system to a tablet or laptop may make sense from a portability standpoint, but be sure your computer investments match the quality of life you’re expecting. Desktops can be much cheaper to buy than laptops, giving you the freedom to buy both. Desktop performance is better, more flexible, and far more robust than tablets; laptops that offer equivalent desktop performance are typically cumbersome and heavy despite being optimized for mobility. If you’re a gamer, crafter, or have a penchant for art, having a desktop in your post-work tech arsenal will be a very worthwhile spend.
- Plan your digital estate. You’re planning to leave your work environment, not your entire life, but now is the time to think about what may happen to your digital identity and it’s a risky aspect of estate planning to neglect. In the Digital Cheat Sheet, Everplans recommends the following steps to take:
- Make a list of all your digital assets and make a plan on how they should be accessed after your passing. This includes your personal data, passwords, and hardware.
- Choose an executor for these assets who will follow your wishes on erasing, preserving, or sharing data, and with whom you want your digital legacy to be shared.
- Store this information where it can be readily accessed by a trusted family member, attorney, or your appointed executor.
- Legalize your wishes. With the exception of Louisiana, Kentucky, and the District of Columbia, there are state provisions for digital asset legalization. Work with your estate planner to incorporate your digital assets into your will. Remember: Never include passwords or private data in your will, as it is a public document that anyone can access.
Retirement isn’t the end of your life, it’s the beginning of enjoying what you’ve worked so hard for. Set yourself up for success much the same way you did in your career. There’s a whole world of things to do that you might have missed out on. A smart retirement will enable you to make the most of your time while living on the go. Get after it!
User Not Found Explores Our Digital Identity After Death
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Looks like this article is a bit old. Be aware that information may have changed since it was published.
What happens to our online presence after we die?
Joining the extensive list of sight-specific theatre offerings in London is Dante or Die’s User Not Found, a 90-minute immersive show that explores the question of digital identity after one dies. Originally a play that debuted as part of Traverse Theatre’s 2018 Edinburgh Fringe programme, the one-man project utilises headphones and a smart phone to place the audience within the emotionally fragile mind of a lover who has been given the responsibility of sorting out his dead boyfriend’s online presence.
Terry O’Donovan does his best to carry the show — that takes place within the cosy confines of The CoffeeWorks Project — by revealing the disparate state of his relationship with his (as it turns out) ex-lover, and all the questions one might have in finding out about their more recent affairs. O’Donovan scrolls through his lover’s social pages, and we as an audience join along in the peep show via the smart phones and headphones placed on the tables.
The idea is brilliant, as surely we would all be curious as to what might happen to our Instagram and Facebook accounts once we are no longer able to carry out our own postings. Inspired by a research project at the University of Reading, along with a Guardian article that highlights a wife’s predicament of how she should handle her husband’s digital legacy after his sudden death, the show’s creators Daphna Attias and O’Donovan as well as creative technologists Luke and Abhinav from Marmelo cleverly bring an immersive element to the question — who would you put in control of your digital presence once you are dead?
Yet something somehow feels like it’s missing. Maybe an even more detailed approach via the headphones and smartphone would have brought us closer to O’Donovan’s heavy and confused heart. Either way, it’s a unique experience that is certainly worth checking out over coffee and treats, particularly if you’re interested in checking out Battersea’s newly revamped offering of trendy restaurants on the riverside.
User Not Found, The CoffeeWorks Project, Unit 20 Circus Road West, Battersea, SW11 8EZ, £20+. Until 2 June
If you are reading this, chances are that you have some kind digital identity*. How many email addresses do you have? Do you have Facebook and Twitter accounts? Flickr, LinkedIn, MySpace, Spotify…? Do you have your own blog/s, too?
If you have one or more of the above, have you considered what will happen to all this digital information about you when you die?Because, let’s face it, we will all die sooner or later. And if you do nothing about it, the little digital information dots that we leave around the Web will stay there, as long as the Web exists. Who will inherit your digital estate? How would you like them to manage and distribute it?
This might sound frivolous and irrelevant when one is faced with illness and the end of one’s life. In fact, some studies have reported that an8% of people are not concerned about this at all. However, the vast majority of Web users have given it some thought, although only a minority (13%) have acted on it. Some people now choose to include this in their will. There are also companies that offer services such as storing all your passwords and relevant data, and passing it on to your loved ones following your instructions. In other words, they offer tomanage and distribute your digital estate after you die. Needless to say, there are enormous ethical and practical issues regarding this. For instance: how can you know that the company you chose to do that will actually still be in business when you die? And what happens if the company servers get hacked?
Digital technologies have brought us joy and knowledge, but with this have come some challenges attached. This blog entry has no solutions to offer, but hopefully it will raise awareness and give you a starting point to gently start thinking about your digital legacy.
Think of the value of your digital dots. Consider including this in your will. Talk to your loved ones about it.
*Please note this post refers only to digital identity on the Web. It does not deal with digital information you may have in your computer/s or other devices.
The internet is widely known to be misused to commit identity theft, vandalism, blackmail, revenge porn and worse. Imagine if revenge-seekers and other criminals were also able to terminate your digital identity entirely and abscond with all of your resources? Has your wife or girlfriend cheated on you? Revenge is yours. Terminate her (and/or her paramour’s) digital existence and collect the ill-gotten gains. Duped by a business partner? No problem. Digitally kill him and/or her and collect from the walking dead’s assets that which you think should have been yours.
It is far more advantageous to digitally off someone than it is to steal their identity. Digital murder is harder to trace than is identity theft. With a digital virtual death, it is also is easier to quickly cash in on the misdeed and disappear, before the victim even knows what has happened. Digital suicide is also an expedient fix to your self-imposed problems. Virtually kill yourself. Escape prosecutors and debt collectors; enjoy your life insurance while you are alive.
These are the types of real-life, frighteningly easy scenarios laid bare by professional “hacker” Chris Rock, Chief Executive Officer of Kustodian Pty Ltd at DEF CON® 23 in Las Vegas earlier this month. Rock’s presentation, entitled I WILL KILL YOU, was attended by nearly 3,000 conference attendees and was based on his book. In his book and presentation Rock details the system he created to virtually kill someone and collect their assets. This article is a how-to, of sorts, based on his presentation and book.
The global digital death registration security chasm
In his session Rock explained how, by exploiting a flaw in the various individual global death registration systems, he was able to fraudulently create real, legally enforceable death records. His research confirmed flaws in the systems of numerous jurisdictions, including in the United States, Australia, Canada and several European countries. Rock also found weaknesses in the processes to produce, register and probate wills, enabling him to become surrogate beneficiary to these now legally dead but not literally dead persons. To put it as sharply as Rock, “this is a global problem. . .a fuck up.”
Rock’s offensive depiction of these flaws underscores his intent to expose them so they can be corrected. His goal is to bring attention to the global systemic weaknesses in the death records that enable criminals to easily take your, mine, and anyone else’s life (virtually) and assets (literally). What’s yours (mine and/or ours) are the criminals’, by their merely knowing the tricks to logging in and filling out the right forms.
As Rock points out in his speech and book, exposing the weaknesses in dramatic detail is the only hope that these weaknesses will be noticed and fixed. Rock said (in an @_Kustodian_ Twitter post), “[The] main reason hackers don’t disclose vulnerabilities to stake holders is because generally nobody wants to hear it.” Shortly after Rock’s revealing the weaknesses in the systems in detailed, dramatic fashion, one authority (Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages) said in a statement that “[it] is always seeking ways to improve the security and timeliness of registration information for the benefit of the [its] community.” Rock’s explicit exposure of these weaknesses is already having positive effect.
Hacking death: no computer skills or experience necessary
The system Rock outlines for erasing someone’s (or your own) digital existence does not require any advanced computer skills and therefore does not technically, in the computer security sense , exploit a “vulnerability”. The simplicity of the system, and the fact that these hacks require no specialized technical skills, mean that a many more people are technically capable of utilizing the weaknesses to gain illegal access than would be able to exploit a more advanced computer or network security “vulnerability”. For that reason, it is imperative that authorities check their systems for weaknesses and fix any that are found.
Once in possession of a valid certificate of death and a fully-probated will (2-3 weeks after filing for probate), you can immediately begin liquidating the victim’s assets in your favor, for example settle life insurance and pension claims, transfer property titles, as well as apply for other death benefits.
It is now incumbent upon individuals to more closely police their financial and other records. Rebecca Herold, an information privacy, security and compliance expert, suggests requesting a credit report (at least as often as the three per year that are available for free in the U.S.) for yourself, your children and any related deceased persons, rotating a different credit reporting agency (CRA) each time. She also recommends considering using an online reputation management service for you, your children, and any other family members (alive and deceased) to identify if their information is being fraudulently used. Finally, she recommends speaking to your doctors about these systemic weaknesses to alert them of the potential for fraud in vital registry systems. Note that the public versions of death record systems such as the Social Security Death Master File that feed into searchable databases such as the Database of the Dead are not updated sufficiently often (in the case of the DMF, every three years) to be of much immediate use in checking for fraudulent death records.
It is now also long past time for authorities to begin tightening the security of the systems through which deaths are registered and legal entitlements to estate assets are transferred.
DEF CON® just released the video of Rock’s presentation, so you can fill in the details directly from the source, and/or buy his book here.
With Rock’s DEF CON® presentation and its open availability online as well as the publication of his book, the large potential for misuse of the system and the extensive potential harm resulting from that misuse is now disclosed and can be addressed by policymakers. These stark revelations also put the public on actionable notice and enable it to be more vigilent.
It should be noted that Rock’s book also contains extensive detail about the analogous weaknesses in global birth records and the extensive potential for their criminal exploitation. The full title is The Baby Harvest: How virtual babies became the future of terrorist financing and money laundering.
Permissions have been given for all excerpts contained in this article and image.