Why tech businesses are tackling society’s most taboo subject

Why tech businesses are tackling society’s most taboo subject

Why tech businesses are tackling society’s most taboo subject

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Death will happen to us all, but it’s not something we like to talk about or prepare for. The UK population is now older than it has ever been – by 2039, more than one in 12 of the population is projected to be aged 80 or over – and the death rate has risen. There were 602,786 deaths in the UK during 2015, according to the cumulative England and WalesScotland and Northern Ireland figures, up 5.4% from 2014. But some digitally-focused entrepreneurs have spotted an opportunity in the rise, and see this traditional industry as ripe for disruption.

New challenges

Death in the modern age comes with an entirely new set of issues – how to handle our online legacies, such as our tweets, Facebook posts, playlists and other virtual creations. It is a question that has occupied Suelin Chen, founder and CEO of online end-of-life planning service Cake. The platform differs from others as it also provides a concierge facility to handle posthumous profiles online.

“Most people haven’t thought about what they would want to happen to their online accounts after they’ve passed away. We help people understand that there might be precious memories or even actual assets in their Dropbox, Gmail, Facebook, Instagram accounts, etc,” she says.

Chen says the terms and conditions for each site vary and this can be a potential problem for grieving relatives. Also, digital legacy is such a new concept, it is often missed by traditional will makers. “[Wills] are not typically updated enough to manage how often the digital landscape of our lives change. Legacy-building in the digital age is a whole new frontier.”

Dan Garrett, founder and CEO of London-based startup Farewill, is aiming to make it easier for people to update their wills. The business enables people to create a will online for £50 and make updates for just £5 a year. Before launching, Garrett spent time interviewing funeral directors to gain an insight into their work. He discovered that more than half of all people fail to draw up a will and of those who do, most documents are old and unreflective of the owner’s final wishes.

Garrett and all of his team have training in writing wills and the business has created around 2,000 so far. “There are a lot of costs and problems if you die intestate,” he points out. Latest figures estimate the average cost to an estate of dying without a will is £9,700 because of unclaimed assets and poor tax planning.

For some, the financial burden of organising a funeral can also be vast. Insurance company Sun Life found that the average cost of a death in the UK is £8,802 once funeral costs, probate and the send off have been paid for. A 2014 report by the University of Bath estimates that 100,000 people cannot afford to die.

Among the business’ investors are Zoopla and Lovefilm founder, Alex Chesterman, venture capital company Kindred Capital, and Wonga founder, Errol Damelin. Garrett says the nature of his investors is a sign of his own ambition. “Alex Chesterman changed the whole real estate market so I was really excited to bring him on board – we want to do the same with the death industry. The industry is ripe for disruption. I think the fact it hasn’t been is more of a reflection of it being a taboo, than of technical difficulty,” he says.

Increasing transparency

Perhaps because of its taboo nature, the death and funeral industry lacks the transparency of other sectors. Kim Bird is attempting to alter this with her Cardiff-based company About the Funeral, which was founded in 2012. The business received £250,000 from the investment consortium InspireWales, including GoCompare founders Hayley Parsons and Kevin Hughes (Hughes is on her board), and aims to bring price comparison services to the funeral market. “People are unfamiliar with buying a funeral. They either haven’t done it before, or not for a long time.”

Bird, who previously worked in the funeral industry as a bereavement support volunteer, says there are calls from both the public and parliamentarians (including Frank Field MP, chair of the work and pensions select committee) for greater transparency in the industry. She points to research from YouGov suggesting 85% of people want funeral prices published online. “The main challenges have been the nature of the market. It is a traditional industry – changing it is a big challenge,” she says.

It is early days for her company, which has so far signed up 100 funeral directors to its subscription service, but Bird believes now she has the funding and an experienced board, she is well placed to make a difference. “These days, the internet is where most people go for information and About the Funeral is just an extension of that. Many industries have been disrupted in this way – the insurance industry has been through it and now price comparison is the norm for that sector.”

Derrick Grant, who recently launched his funeral director’s network Willow, says he was shocked by the sheer cost of funerals and felt that grieving families were all too often getting a raw deal. “Having watched a friend struggle to pay for his wife’s funeral, I wanted to understand why it was so expensive. After doing research, it became obvious that a lot of the cost is simply because we don’t have the time or access to question the traditional funeral process,” he says.

Grant launched his business in December 2016 with a handful of independent funeral directors connected to his site. Users fill in a simple questionnaire and are directed to the provider who most closely matches their needs. The business makes money through the sale of funeral products such as coffins, flowers and celebrant services. Grant says people often pay large sums for these and it is easy to undercut his competition. He believes he is also making the process easier.

“There are a lot of questions to answer at a time when most people aren’t concerned with paperwork and chasing phone calls,” Grant says. “Booking a cremation can take several phone calls to agree a time and date. Digitising processes so the public and funeral directors are on equal footing and can make decisions faster will make huge differences in the industry. Talking about death is becoming easier, but it’s still difficult to understand what to do when you lose someone.”

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The Importance of Backing Up Your Files

The Importance of Backing Up Your Files

Backing up audio files in a tape archive
Photo credit: Jorge Gonzalez under CC License
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:

  1. Accidental deletion
  2. Computer viruses and malware
  3. Physical damage
  4. Accidental reformatting
  5. Head crashes
  6. Logical errors
  7. Continued use after signs of failure
  8. Power failure
  9. Firmware corruption
  10. 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.

Backing up files using an external hard drive
Photo credit: Roman Soto under CC License
Make sure your online accounts get deleted when you die

Make sure your online accounts get deleted when you die

Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/CNET

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).

Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/CNET

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.

Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/CNET

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.

SafeBeyond app stores messages for loved ones after you die

SafeBeyond app stores messages for loved ones after you die

SafeBeyond app stores messages for loved ones after you die

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.

Death in the Digital Age: Tech Startups Help Us Cope With Mortality

Death in the Digital Age: Tech Startups Help Us Cope With Mortality

Death in the Digital Age: Tech Startups Help Us Cope With Mortality


How do you want to be remembered?

It’s a weighty question that we’ve all thought about at one time or another. Everybody hopes to have meaningful impact on the world while they’re here, whether that means touching the lives of millions or even just one person. That’s never going to change.

But the ways in which we prepare for death and memorialize our dearly departed are changing. And, like nearly everything else these days, technology has a hand in it. Some groups may be trying to crack the code on immortality, like Calico, a company started by Google and Apple to research how to prolong the human lifespan. Others are using software to try to solve more tractable problems.

Yes, it seems even death—or, rather, the death industry—is “ripe for disruption,” says Boston serial entrepreneur and investor Dave Balter. He is working on a stealthy startup, Mylestoned, tied to how we remember the dead.

“There’s no question that we’re in an era where death has not only become something we’re more aware [of] and comfortable [with] as individuals, but also that the industry has not evolved significantly to match how we live today,” says Balter, who previously co-founded startups in social marketing, online skills assessments, and leadership development.

He’s referring to funeral homes and the traditional custom of burying the dead in caskets, beneath a headstone. People are more “transient” these days, and it’s less common for them to live near the cemetery where their deceased relatives are buried or to routinely visit their graves, Balter says. At the same time, more people are opting for cremation, in part, he argues, because they want their lives honored in a different way, perhaps by having their ashes scattered into the sea.

“You’re seeing a major, major shift in how people think about what to do with their loved ones,” Balter says. “We’re searching for something more meaningful—something to memorialize our loved ones in the places where they had impact.”

And that’s what he’s trying to do with his new startup. It’s still early, and Balter isn’t ready to share more details about what he’s planning.

But his company is certainly not the only one hatching new ways to deal with death in the digital age. Humans have always grappled with their own mortality, and Balter thinks there’s increased interest among entrepreneurs because people are becoming more thoughtful about the value of their contributions to the world, and they’re preparing more for their eventual eulogy.

Technology is helping to “reframe what death means” to us, Balter says.

“We’re starting to see our lives so much more clearly through social media, through all these lenses,” he says.

At the same time, people are becoming more cognizant of death and its role in life, Balter says. “There’s greater awareness of what that looks like in a realm where we can all see each other’s worlds.”

Other tech startups are trying to help people prepare for their own deaths. One example is Cake, a young Boston company that participated in this year’s MassChallenge startup accelerator program. Cake developed an app that helps guide users through end-of-life planning, including giving them a checklist of recommended steps like designating a healthcare proxy and buying life insurance, and allowing them to create an online handbook of posthumous preferences and wishes for loved ones, doctors, and lawyers to carry out.

The year-old company is led by Suelin Chen, an MIT-trained materials scientist and engineer who has worked as a research assistant at Massachusetts General Hospital and directed The Laboratory at Harvard, a center for arts and sciences experimentation. Chen’s funeral playlist, according to her company’s website: “Islands in the Stream,” by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton; Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love”; and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” by Queen.

Another startup, Israel-based SafeBeyond, recently launched a service that allows users to create an online vault of important documents and messages that can be shared posthumously with loved ones.

With SafeBeyond, people can record video or audio messages or type up letters that will be released to their heirs upon a predetermined triggering event. Those triggers can be an exact date, say a child’s 18th birthday; a major life event, such as a future wedding (a trustee previously chosen by the deceased would notify SafeBeyond that the event has occurred); or when an heir visits a specified place that holds meaning to the family, such as a favorite vacation spot.

Users who leave messages behind can’t “make the sadness disappear,” but the digital relics can help loved ones “cope a little better with the fact that I’m gone,” SafeBeyond founder and CEO Moran Zur explains.

SafeBeyond is positioning its service as a sort of digital time capsule that provides “emotional life insurance,” Zur says.

Like many startups, the idea for SafeBeyond was born of personal experience. Zur, a native of Israel, was 25 when he lost his father to cancer in 2002. Four years later, as Zur was preparing to get married, his father’s absence was saddening and frustrating. There were times that he “didn’t feel like doing” a big wedding in Israel without his father, he says.

“There’s so many things that you don’t think about it, but you kind of never get a chance to discuss when you’re 25,” Zur says. “You don’t think about getting married, you don’t think about kids, you don’t think about other advice that might be needed in the most important moments. What would my father have said about that?”

That gave Zur the idea for SafeBeyond, which he put on the backburner for several years while he led a brokerage company. But in 2012, hardship struck again—Zur’s wife was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. Their son was 3 years old at the time, he says.

After chemotherapy failed to help, the family turned to alternative treatments that improved her health. Fortunately, she is “doing well” these days, Zur says.

Zur took his wife’s illness as a call to leave his comfortable job in the financial industry and start SafeBeyond, which is offering its online storage service for free.

“I’m doing it for her, doing it for my son as the receiver of these future messages,” Zur says. “It might be that he receives mine before he receives hers.”

Zur says he raised $500,000 in seed funding for SafeBeyond, which is based in Tel Aviv, with an outpost in New York. The company currently has six employees.

Zur says an exit for the company is not his primary concern, and he thinks the business can be sustained by charging for premium features on top of the basic free service, which gives users 1 gigabyte of storage.

But what if SafeBeyond itself dies? The company chose Amazon Web Services to host documents in the cloud, which was partly a move to provide more peace of mind that users’ messages will be preserved and disseminated after they die, even if SafeBeyond doesn’t endure, Zur says. “Our cost will be really, really small to maintain all that,” he adds.

Other services SafeBeyond offers include posting a pre-written final posthumous message on users’ social media pages and storing social media login information so that designated loved ones can access the accounts. People might not realize that without the account passwords, sites like Dropbox or Gmail won’t allow heirs to access deceased users’ accounts, Zur says. Facebook, meanwhile, has set up a legacy contact option that allows a designee to look after your account after you’ve passed away.

The fate of your social media accounts may not be as consequential as what happens to your remains or your assets. But the reality is that, for better or worse, the information about you floating around the Web could be the only thing tied to you that lives forever, at least publicly.

“If someone will go and search my name in 20 years in Google or whatever is going to be the interface, you will find some stuff about me easily, even if I’m gone,” Zur says. “Life has changed in this digital age. It can be debated, [but] from my perspective, there’s no way to be forgotten. At least take responsibility and decide how you want to be remembered.”