Have you ever stopped to count how many online accounts you have? Do you listen to music on Spotify, upload your pictures to Dropbox and run your savings and investments on a platform? Do you do your banking online or through an app?
If any of those answers is yes, you may want to think about what would happen if you were seriously ill or died. You may only have a licence to use these services, with no automatic entitlement to pass on your login and password details to your heirs. You may have already been responsible enough to draw up a will, but you need to take further steps to safeguard your digital legacy. Here’s what you need to know.
I’m the designated nerd in my family, so I handle all of our online accounts. To keep them secure, I use randomly generated, unique passwords and two-factor authentication.
But that means that my wife doesn’t know the online logins for our iTunes account, our bank and retirement accounts, our gas company, our cable company, our water and power company, and so on and so on.
What if I died or was suddenly incapacitated? How would she access our accounts?
- I need a system that’s secure. I don’t want to weaken all my online accounts just for the off chance that I get hit by a bus.
- I need a system that can outlive my hardware. What if my hypothetical death also destroyed my laptop, tablet, and phone?
- I need a system that can be easily understood by my tech illiterate survivors.
- Printed or handwritten letter
- Secure physical location (safe, deposit box, etc)
Step One: Put all your passwords in 1Password
1Password is a password management app available for Mac, Windows, and iOS. It saves your passwords in a secure vault with a master password. Instead of having to remember hundreds of weak passwords, you only have to remember one strong password. The app can generate random, unique passwords for all your online accounts, so if a service gets hacked, your other accounts are safe because each has a unique and unguessable password.
Step Two: Put your 1Password vault in Dropbox
1Password can store your secure password vault in your Dropbox account. That means that by leaving detailed instructions and a few key passwords, all of your online account information can be accessed from one simple file.
Step Three: Write a letter explaining how to access your Dropbox account and 1Password vault
The letter should be stored in a secure location like a safe or safety deposit box in a sealed envelope with the date written on it. And you should tell people important to you about the letter and where to find it. If you have a legal will for your estate, you should mention the letter in that will.
Writing the letter is the hardest step. It should include the following information:
- Your email account username and password. If your family needs to reset any of your passwords, they’ll need access to your email.
- Your Dropbox username and password.
- Your 1Password Master Password.
- Your passcode for your cellphone.
- Detailed instructions for how to access the 1Password master vault.
Here is some example text from my own letter.
Accessing a two-factor authentication protected gmail account:
My Gmail account is protected with two-factor authentication. This means you need both my password and the Google Authenticator app on my iPhone in order to access it. If you can’t access my phone, you can use a special one-time only backup code to get into my Gmail account without using the authenticator. Once you log in with a backup code, you should turn off two-factor authentication so that you don’t get locked out of the account.
Accessing Dropbox and 1Password:
My writing as well as an encrypted archive containing all of my online passwords can be found in my Dropbox account.
Inside my Dropbox is a file called 1Password.agilekeychain. This is an encrypted archive that contains all of my passwords, including those for important accounts like my bank account. It can be opened using a program called 1Password which is available at https://agilebits.com/onepassword.
Bonus: List Your Online Assets
Passing on all of your online accounts to your survivors isn’t useful if they don’t know what’s worth saving. At the end of the letter, write down a list of every online asset that’s important or valuable to you. For instance, web domains, online photo storage accounts, and anything you’ve written online and want preserved.
Am I at risk of losing important data?
If you regularly use a personal computer, or even a tablet device, then data corruption and file loss may have been headaches you’ve dealt with in the past – and even if they haven’t, they’re very real problems that could affect you in the future. There are over a billion PCs in use worldwide, according to statistics released by Gartner, and other reports indicate that over 10% of them crash every single day.
We live in an age in which our computers are more and more central to our lives. But a 2008 study by Webroot shows that 20% of all PC users never back up their files, while a further 12% back them up less than once a year. This results in a huge loss of information, including photographs, music, addresses, and phone numbers, as well as important business documents and résumés. More than two in five PC users have permanently lost files at some point in their lives.
A computer crash is usually the reason behind file or data loss, but you may also lose files due to viruses, theft, software corruption or even natural disasters. The top ten most common causes of data loss among computer users are:
- Accidental deletion
- Computer viruses and malware
- Physical damage
- Accidental reformatting
- Head crashes
- Logical errors
- Continued use after signs of failure
- Power failure
- Firmware corruption
- Natural disasters
Can I recover lost files?
While you may be able to recover some lost files, this process can be both costly and time-consuming. The best solution is to preempt file loss, and prevent it from ever becoming a serious problem, by backing up your files. This way, if your PC does crash and your data becomes corrupted, you can simply reload the most recent backup to restore the data.
You can back up files on a CD, DVD, or even an external hard drive. You can even find software that can automate the process of backing up for you, so that you don’t have to worry about doing it manually – Windows users can take advantage of Microsoft’s free backup software, or, if you prefer, third-party developers such as Acronis and Code42 have published their own alternatives.
If you’d prefer not to back up your files onto physical storage, then you can use a service such as Dropbox to back your files up online.
What are the advantages of backing up my computer online?
If you back up your files online, they’re stored on a cloud server. This way, you can access your files from any computer in any place in the world, and at any time. This is a useful way to keep track of important files across multiple computers – you can work on a document on one computer at home, then edit it again later from a different computer at work, all without having to worry about copying the latest version onto a flash drive.
Online backups also allow you to share your files more easily with your friends and family. Even if a file is too large to attach to an email, you can send the recipient a direct link to the file’s location in the cloud instead, and they’ll be able to view and download it. And if you’re part of a group project at work, you can create a backup which everybody has permission to edit, allowing the entire team to easily view and modify the latest versions of shared documents.
Not everyone wants to leave this earth with their online accounts being managed by relatives and next-of-kin, or just floating around on the Internet forever. If you’re the kind of person who likes your privacy — even in death — you should probably make some plans to have all of your online and social media accounts nuked when you pass away.
Some services, such as Google and Facebook, let you set up your eventual account deletion before you get anywhere close to death. Other services will keep your account forever unless an immediate family member or the executor of your estate requests it be removed. Here’s how to make sure all your loose ends are tied up, and that nobody ever gets hold of your top-secret/possibly incriminating emails and Twitter direct messages.
Google’s Inactive Account Manager lets you choose what happens to your account when it becomes inactive for a certain period of time. You can set up the Inactive Account Manager to delete your Google account and all products associated with that account, including Gmail, Blogger, AdSense, and YouTube.
To set this up, log in to your Google account and go to this page. You will need to provide Google with a phone number for alerts — Google will send a message to this number before your account times out, so you know your account is about to become inactive. You will then need to select a timeout period (3 months, 6 months, 9 months, one year, 15 months, or 18 months).
Then, under Optionally delete account, turn on Delete my account. Click Enable to turn the Inactive Account Manager on, and you’re set. If you fail to log in to your account for the timeout period you selected, Google will delete your Google account and all data associated with it.
Facebook is one of few online services that lets you set a legacy contact — someone who can manage parts of your account and memorialize your page — for when you die. Facebook also lets you delete your account when you die (though it doesn’t use inactivity to determine that you’ve passed away).
To make sure your Facebook account is deleted when you die, open Facebook and go to Settings > Security > Legacy Contact. Check the box next to Account Deletion.
You will see a pop-up box asking if you really want to delete your account in the future. Click Delete After Death and then re-enter your Facebook password to save your changes. Your account will now be deleted when Facebook is notified of your death — this means that if anybody tries to memorialize your page, it will be deleted instead of memorialized.
Use a digital legacy service
Google and Facebook give you the power to delete your account when you die, but many sites and services — such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Microsoft, and Yahoo — do not. These sites will delete the account of a deceased person at the request of an immediate family member or the executor of an estate (by the way, you can and should delineate how you want your digital life to be handled in your last will and testament). If you want to take full control, you can use a digital legacy services like Perpetu.
Perpetu is an online service that covers Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Flickr, LinkedIn and GitHub. You connect your accounts to Perpetu, and then you outline your final wishes for each service — for example, you can request that Perpetu delete certain emails from your Gmail account, delete tweets and direct messages from Twitter, or delete files from your Dropbox account.
The service can’t really delete actual accounts, but it can delete data and leave final updates for your friends and family to see. Perpetu’s service kicks in when the company receives a report of your death from a trusted contact with your reporting code, so it’s still a good idea to put this in your will.
Imagine being able to be a part of your loved ones lives even after you die.
A new app that calls itself the Dropbox for the hereafter allows you to do just that by creating and storing messages for friends and family members that will be delivered to them at targeted moments throughout their lives. Sometimes decades after you die.CCTV America’s Karina Huber reports. Israeli entrepreneur Moran Zur created the app SafeBeyond after doctors diagnosed his wife with cancer. “We had a three year old kid at the time. We wanted to make sure that he would get the chance to know his mother. And this kind of was my motivation to make sure that he would get to know his mom no matter what happens for many years to come,” Zur said.The app allows you to be a virtual part of loved ones’ pivotal moments even when you’re no longer there. After signing up for an account you can create written, audio or video messages through your mobile device that are stored on the Amazon cloud.You then decide when you want those messages released to your loved ones. It could be on a specific date like an 18th birthday, or a wedding anniversary.The recipient is notified through a push notification on their phone that they have a message waiting for them.Some digital experts say people may be unsettled by messages from loved ones years after their death.We asked on Twitter what people thought of the idea.
POLL: Would you want to get pre-recorded messages from loved ones after they’ve died on important days in your life?
— CCTV America (@CCTV_America) January 25, 2016
Evan Carroll, Co-Author “Your Digital Afterlife” says, “I do believe there’s growing interest in them. However, I don’t quite think the mainstream is ready to handle these types of messages. However, as younger generations grow older, as people who were always born with technology and always use social media start to pass away, I think it’s going to become more commonplace. So it would not surprise me if we see more of these sites in the future.”The service is free to everyone, but limited to one gigabyte of space. Zur says the company will have ways to monetize the site down the road by offering premium perks like video editing and online will services. But its success ultimately depends on people being comfortable with the idea of hearing from their loved ones-sometimes decades after they pass. Christopher Moreman on digital afterlifeCCTV America’s Rachelle Akuffo spoke to Christopher Moreman. He’s author of the book Digital Death and an Associate Philosophy Professor at California State University, East Bay.