Israeli SafeBeyond aims to connect the living and the dearly departed

Israeli SafeBeyond aims to connect the living and the dearly departed

Image credit: SafeBeyond
Image credit: SafeBeyond

While it may sound morbid the digital death company may provide closure to the living and the deceased.

Death is the destination we all share. It’s the inescapable last stop on this journey we call life, and once you reach it there’s no looking back. The digital world is attempting to make death a little less permanent, allowing words and images to be stored indefinitely. It might sound like the beginning of a horror movie, receiving an email or text from a dead relative, but some companies are now looking to give a voice back to the dead.

SafeBeyond is one such company. Part of a growing industry that deals with digital rights and inheritance, they help users create messages which can be sent to family and friends after their death.

A morbid thought, but perhaps a necessary one

It’s a somewhat morbid concept, planning messages to leave behind after one’s death. People tend to avoid thinking about the inevitable, and focus solely on the here and now. That’s why companies like SafeBeyond may make us shiver. They remind us that as much as we would like to believe we are invincible, we will all die one day (or they remind us of a bad movie).

SafeBeyond’s founder Moran Zur argues that this is exactly why companies like his are needed. He explained to Geektime that in 2002 his father passed away just as he was getting ready to propose to his girlfriend, and in 2012 his wife was diagnosed with brain cancer. Both of these cases made him realize how important it was to leave behind a way for the living to connect with the deceased.

How it works

Zur’s company believes that everyone should have the ability to leave messages for their loved ones, so they offer an initial 1GB of storage for free, with additional storage for a fee. Messages can come in whatever format the user chooses, including audio, video, and text. The user records their messages and then uploads them through the company’s website or app. There is also the option to upload images or passwords, so that families can have easy access to important information.

SafeBeyond is somewhat unique in the postmortem message industry in that the messages are not just delivered, but also can be scheduled for events and locations that the the receivers will experience in the future. This means that it is possible for a parent who will miss their child’s wedding or graduation to leave a message of support or love which they might not have gotten to do otherwise.

Location-based messages use a GPS system, which alerts the intended recipient when they arrive at a location to which a message has been attached. Event messages are scheduled by a designated trustee, who is also responsible for certifying that the user has passed away.

The concerns that follow all new startups are compounded by the delicate nature of the services that SafeBeyond offers. What happens to the data that is uploaded by an individual should the company fail, or if something catastrophic were to happen to their servers?

Moran explained that all files are stored on the Amazon cloud, instead of on a private server, which allows for the messages to be downloaded or moved at any time should anything happen to the company.

Understanding why people are looking to the grave

This is such a unique service that Geektime wanted to hear the reasons that people were recording messages, as well as find out exactly what they left behind. One public figure has already used the service. Yitzhak Navon, the fifth president of Israel, recorded one last public message before his death with SafeBeyond.

Geektime was able to talk with Amiram Hayardeny and Oshrat Kagan, both of whom are recent sign ups, to find out exactly why they chose to use it. Interestingly both of them are healthy, and have chosen to record messages as a preemptive measure, just in case anything goes wrong.

Amiram explained that his impetus for registering was his fathers diagnosis of ALS and the sudden death of a younger cousin. Both incidents left important things unsaid, which he realized after his father lost his ability to speak.

When asked why he chose SafeBeyond, rather than another service or saving messages himself, Amiram explained that SafeBeyond made the process more inviting. He explained that, “These are topics that people don’t like to talk about. Talking about death, and what happens next, the legacy you want to leave for your children, is not something that is easy to talk about. SafeBeyond actually makes it less intimidating. It puts you at ease.”

Oshrat told Geektime that she uses SafeBeyond to save pictures and written messages, so that her children have access to important memories should she ever forget them or if anything were to happen to her. She further explained that she would try to tell them all that she wants to now, but “they are too young.”

“I’ve already forgotten their first word,” she tells Geektime, “How do I remember all the wonderful things they are doing and saying right now? We grow up and lose so much of that magic and I felt like this is a way to hold on to it forever.”

Final thoughts

It remains to be seen how SafeBeyond will be received by the public. Moran relayed to Geektime that they expect to have 10,000 users who plan on leaving messages by the end of the year. SafeBeyond offers an interesting take on digital asset management – perhaps taking it to an extreme – especially as we record a significant portion of our daily lives digitally.

However there is a difference between giving your children the password to your Instagram, and leaving them a message from beyond the grave. It may inspire uncomfortable feelings, or it could wind up being an unpleasant reminder of the loss of someone important to you. Until general reactions can be gauged on a wider scale, the hope is that it will bring as much peace to living, as it might to the dead.

IIT Humanities Professor Discusses What Happens To Our Data Once We Die

IIT Humanities Professor Discusses What Happens To Our Data Once We Die

How do we archive our memories on Facebook? What are proper ethics and etiquette around social media and death? What happens to our data after we die?

These are some of the questions Illinois Institute of Technology humanities professor Mel Hogan is delving into this fall with a class on death, memories, and archives in the digital age. As a communications academic studying the crossroads of technology and humanity, previously she has tackled big questions such as archiving absence, and where Big Tech and the environment intersect.

Ahead of the school year, Hogan answered questions via email on death, data, and digital humanities.

Chicago Inno: This fall you’re teaching a class called “Digital Death: Archives, Memories, Body, Decay” at IIT. Tell us a little more about what this class will explore.

Hogan: The class brings together a few threads that link archives, memories, bodies and decay. We do this by looking at theoretical issues like queer temporalities and the importance of forgetting, as well as practical concerns such as archiving web contents, managing digital assets (after death), and terms of use on social media platforms that delimit much of our digital – past and future – selves. We also look at the materiality of death – decay and pollution – by exploring body farms, cemeteries, and the toxic residues of e-waste.

(Courtesy of Mel Hogan)
Mel Hogan

A new aspect of our lives in the digital age is that it is nearly impossible to escape what happened in the past once it has been posted online. How do you anticipate this will impact the future as people post more personal information at a younger age?

As many scholars have noted, the full implications of what people are posting online are not yet known, but there is cause for concern. The concern is both in terms of people’s privacy and in terms of the control and ownership of user-generated information (and its metadata) by Big Tech companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon.

As a critical communication studies scholar, I don’t tend to speculate about the future, but my observation is that, so far, huge interventions (such as the Wikileaks leaks, the Snowden revelations, and the Ashley Madison hack) trigger slow and mostly obscure policy review, which may eventually trickle down to and affect everyday users. I also believe that the aggregation of user data that is already at play (as big data) is only likely to become more influential (and simultaneously more invisible, or seamless) in our everyday digital engagements.

On the other end of the spectrum, once we die we are all leaving behind a lot of information. How do tech companies currently deal with this? What could be improved?

There are digital assets management companies that offer a variety of services in preparation for your own death. They’ll offer services to back-up your digital assets and make sure your passwords are passed on safely, and possibly disconnect your social media accounts and so on. There are also a slew of apps, like Timehop and Memoir, that serve up the an algorithmically-generated past based on content created and uploaded over the years. Social media companies like Facebook and Twitter have a death policies. Facebook has a “Memorialization Request” form and the settings allow you to leave a “Legacy Contact” to delete the account should you pass away. It won’t automatically delete accounts though so that means the dead could one day surpass the living on Facebook. Twitter deletes accounts after six months of inactivity. There’s no unified approach to dealing with death, yet.

What I focus on in my digital death class is the affective connection we have to objects and traces, and how our understanding of the past and future shape how we want to be remembered and forgotten. Through that we discuss how history is created, whose lives are evidenced in the archive and who is left out, and how the present context shapes how we read the past.

Your course includes material ranging from the Atlantic to the BBC series “Black Mirror”. Are there any TV shows, journalists, or publications that do an especially good job at delving into these issues that people should look to if they want to consider the “big questions” in tech further, but perhaps outside of reading academic papers or textbooks?

Absolutely. I think that pop culture – TV shows like “CSI”, “Hannibal”, and “Black Mirror”, and films like Her and Ex-Machina – does a good job of considering the big questions of technology. Some of the films I like to show in class also include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (for our week on forgetting), Stories We Tell (for dealing with storytelling in relation to media and memory), and a colleague recommended the documentaries A Will For The Woods and A Family Undertaking (for weeks dealing with funerals and rituals of death). I rely on podcasts as assigned “readings” in my class, such as 99% Invisible’s “The Nutshell Series” (about autopsies), Reply All’s issue on Silence and Respect (about public shaming), and Radiolab’s edition on The Right to be Forgotten….While there are many outlets for addressing these big tech questions, there is still an incredible lack of diversity in terms of who gets to speak in this context. I think much more of this works needs to be thought of in relation to intersections of class, race, sexuality and gender – and usually that’s where the academics (and activists and artists) come in. Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media and Technology is one such place addressing this lack, but more needs to be done. Much more.

What areas would you like us to all be a bit more thoughtful about in the tech world?

I believe that the intersection of Big Tech (internet infrastructure in particular) and the environment requires more attention and academic scrutiny. This is where my research is focused these days. Climate change and the environmental impacts of digital media should be issues accounted for in the design, production and repurposing of technology. Following this, I think more

attention in the tech world needs to be paid to e-waste, and especially those bodies that become registers of toxicity given the global social inequities on which much of Western technological conveniences rest.

What is the importance of looking at tech through a humanities lens?

There’s nothing more human than an awareness of our mortality and the urge to counter it – to resist our own disappearance by leaving important traces behind and then making sense of those traces for an uncertain future.

Preparing Digital Assets for Your Eventual Death

Preparing Digital Assets for Your Eventual Death

Update: I first pitched this series to Tuts+ because I thought it was an interesting, under-reported topic. After completing the first two episodes, I learned that I had a treatable, operable, likely benign brain tumor which will require surgery. My prognosis is very good, but those first few days were intermittently terrifying and poignant—the topics explored in this series became very real to me overnight. I hope you’ll take my experience to heart, read mindfully, and consider taking action to get your shit together. Please also check out my personal essay: What We Can Learn From My Brain Tumor. Enjoy the series.

This is the second of a series on exploring the complexity of managing your digital legacy. If you’d like, go back and read part one, Hosting Your Website After Death. In this episode, I’ll share with you what you should do to prepare your digital legacy prior to a health emergency or your death.

Just a reminder, I do participate in the comment threads below. If you have a question or want to suggest a future topic, please post a comment below. You can also reach me on Twitter @reifman or email me directly.

Get Your Shit Together

After my friend Chanel Reynold’s husband José died in a tragic cycling accident, she had the inspiration for Get Your Shit Together (GYST):

It took her several years to grieve and put her family’s life back on track enough to the point where she could focus on helping others. In A Shocking Death, a Financial Lesson and Help for Others, she told the New York Times:

I was finding it really hard for me to stay present and in the room and to be able to hear what the doctors were saying because I was so overwhelmed with not knowing how much money we had in our checking account, and the fact that we had our wills drafted but not signed.

Check it out—GYST provides helpful checklists to make emergency preparedness easier. While its lists address wills, living wills, life insurance and personal loose ends, it only makes passing mentions of passwords.

Facing the Inevitable

A counselor of mine used to say, “No one’s getting off this planet alive.” While the Mars One folks are trying to change that, it’s probably true for most of us. Hopefully you’ll have the time you need to plan your affairs. But what if you face a sudden health emergency where you’re temporarily incapacitated, or a partner or family member dies unexpectedly?

Even Facebook Users Die

An Australian life insurance company produced this intriguing advertisement, What Happens Online When You Die, saying that three Facebook users die every minute and reminding us of the privacy concerns our digital death presents:

Last June, WebpageFX created a super useful infographic, What Happens to Your Online Presence When You Die?

WebpageFX Digital Demise
WebpageFX Digital Demise

Since I stopped using Facebook a couple of years ago, I was particularly amused by the estimate that not too long from now there will be more dead users of Facebook than living ones. I’m sure Facebook will find a way to market the dead to advertisers and I’m glad I won’t be part of that.

WebpageFX Facebook Dead Outnumber the living
WebpageFX Facebook Dead Outnumber the living

The Digital Beyond

Perhaps Facebook will try to market its knowledge of the dead to our vulnerable descendants, as depicted in the brilliant Black Mirror series, Be Right Back:

The Digital Beyond is a website that reports on issues related to our digital afterlife. It’s an excellent starting point for anyone interested in learning more. You can also listen to one of my favorite journalists, Brooke Gladstone, interview Evan Carroll, one of the bloggers behind the site: Our Digital Afterlives.

In fact there’s been a lot of good media coverage of these topics. PBS NewsHour offered: Dead and online: What happens to your digital estate when you die?:

and The New York Times Magazine provided, Cyberspace When You’re Dead.

What You Should Prepare

Here’s a high-level list of what you should prepare to provide your family members in a safe, secure manner.

Credentials to Critical Accounts

In addition to all of the GYST checklists, you should provide access to critical credentials and accounts such as PINs for your ATM, credit cards and home alarm master, device passwords for phones, laptops and desktop computers (and firmware passwords), and password storage software (e.g. 1Password).

If you have any public keys or perhaps SSH keys for managing your website, these need to be provided as well—with documentation.

Email, the Gateway Account

Of course you should provide access to critical email accounts. As third party authentication services become more commonplace, certain services are becoming lynchpins to many other services. For example, your Google account can log you in to a variety of other services. Provide a list of the linked accounts.

Keep in mind that there may be materials you don’t wish to share. For example, your Google account provides access to all of your emails and Google Drive files. It’s useful to think about segmenting private materials ahead of an emergency, e.g. using a separate email account for messages you wish to remain private forever.

There are legacy services such as Capsoole, which we’ll discuss below, that make it possible to delete private content from these accounts posthumously. My app Simplify Email can regularly expire (delete) messages from specific senders or in specific folders. See Building Advanced Email Features With IMAP and PHP (Tuts+).

There are also services that allow you to posthumously send emails. These can deliver credentials but they can also be social. For example, maybe you want to send birthday messages to your children annually after you pass on. These services activate by means of a dead man switch.

Social Media

Who knows what social media will look like in the future? Recently Boing Boing featured Killing Time At LightSpeed, an intriguing, fun look at social media in 2042.

Social Media in 2042 Killing Time At LightSpeed
Social Media in 2042 Killing Time At LightSpeed

Make yourself familiar with the policies of the services you participate in. WebpageFX’s What Happens to Your Online Presence When You Die? is very helpful for this.

Think ahead about what you would like to happen to your social accounts, and then be specific with instructions and provide the credentials necessary for your descendants to act appropriately.

Digital Assets: Blogs, Photography, etc.

In part one, Hosting Your Website After Death, I reviewed how difficult it is to plan for web hosting after you’re gone. I think the best approach is to provide clear wishes and thorough instructions for your descendants on what you’d like to be done with your online assets. It’s probably also useful to set aside funding for them to pay the bills. Don’t count on anything being preserved more than ten years without a lot of guidance and attention.

Digital Legacy Services

There are a number of emerging services to help manage our digital assets in case of emergency or death. But many of these are small businesses or startups. I question how secure, reputable and reliable these companies are.

In many cases, their business model is built around their customers storing credentials to vital accounts. This makes them a perfect target for hackers.

In the past year, my Fortune 500 financial services company and health insurer were both hacked, requiring them to agree to purchase identity theft services for all of their members. Do we really expect digital afterlife startups to be better at security than these companies?

What if hackers were able to obtain keys to all of my accounts by hacking into a legacy service? What if they did it after I passed on?

For the moment, I’d be very cautious what you use these services for.

There’s an alphabetical Online Services List at The Digital Beyond which provides a useful reference. Just be cautious. Many of the businesses are already defunct:

The Digital Beyond Online Services list and Extinct Businesses
The Digital Beyond Online Services list and Extinct Businesses

Here’s another dead man service promoted in Slashdot that’s passed on:

Software Dead Mans Switch Already Dead
Software Dead Mans Switch Already Dead

My recommendation is only to use services that let you encrypt your cloud-based archive with your own password-protected private key which they don’t have access to.

For now, a “simple” DIY solution would be to store your own encrypted document at Dropbox or another cloud provider and provide your family member with local access to decryption keys. Or provide your family members with a semi-secret location of the encrypted archive, and host the decryption keys with a dead man switch or legacy service (or two).

Emerging Services

Here are a few emerging services that you may want to check out. Perhaps I will explore these more in future episodes:


PasswordBox, which acquired Legacy Locker. Keep in mind acquisitions are a primary transition point at which the best plans of your digital legacy can be compromised by someone else’s profit model.

Password Box acquires Legacy Locker
Password Box acquires Legacy Locker


Capsoole asks for access to all of your accounts so you can pre-program privacy controls that delete sensitive materials. In the meantime, cross your fingers they don’t get hacked.

Here’s an example of Capsoole requesting access to my life on Google:

Capsoole Services Google Authentication
Capsoole Services Google Authentication

Right about here is where you should be having second thoughts:

Capsoole would like to view and manage your email
Capsoole would like to view and manage your email

Dead Man’s Switch

Dead Man’s Switch (DMS) was profiled in that On the Media segment above. They encourage you to use it to send both credentials as well as social emails in your digital afterlife.

Dead Mans Switch Why How When
Dead Mans Switch Why How When

Personally, I found the $20 lifetime price too cheap to believe in. I’d almost rather they charge me $1,000. That would be more reassuring.

Dead Mans Switch Plans and Pricing
Dead Mans Switch Plans and Pricing

Neither did the site make me feel comfortable that they are capable of robustly securing my credentials in cold storage.

I think it’s wise to remember that all of these business could be hacked (some may even be funded covertly by the NSA) and it’s unlikely any of them will be around in ten years. Keep that in mind and then plan accordingly.


What’s Next?

Well, it looks like you’ve survived the first two episodes of our series about preparing for your death online. I hope you’ve found it entertaining and useful thus far. Depending on feedback from readers, we may offer more tutorials in this area. Let us know what you want to learn more about. We welcome feature and topic requests. You can post them in the comments below or email me at my Lookahead Consulting website.

If you’d like to know when the next tutorial arrives, follow me @reifman on Twitter or check my instructor page.

Related Links


Death, Data and the Digital Hereafter

The digital afterlife: thinking about what happens to our online life when we die. Image credit: Richard Parker/

The digital afterlife: thinking about what happens to our online life when we die. Image credit: Richard Parker/

A soon-to-be-released science fiction movie, Transcendence, features Johnny Depp as a scientist who becomes immortalised as a digital entity – an event that is referred to by many as the Singularity. This is still rather far from reality, of course, but it did get me thinking about death and what happens to ‘our’ data – all those Facebook chats, Instagram photos and so on. I’m talking about the digital hereafter.

Your digital persona

It was around the turn of the millennium when I first started using the internet seriously (by which I mean how much time and energy I spent on the internet, not what I used it for). Back then, I spent my time online divided between MySpace, and plenty of forums. I certainly wasn’t thinking about a data backlog, or what would happen when I die. But as more and more of my life moved online, this has come to my attention as something not too many people think about. I don’t actually know, but I would guess that I have a profile at well over 200 websites, including social media sites, forums, retail and financial services, and any number of arbitrary web-apps that required me to sign up to use them just once.

My point is, as the internet has grown we have strewn our personal data far and wide across numerous websites, with little further thought for that data, sequestered in servers across the world. And in so doing, we have created a kind of avatar – a nebulous collection of data points in the cloud, that together makes up an online persona.

Your data after you die

Google, Facebook, and Twitter all have strategies to deal with accounts of the deceased – Facebook will ‘memorialise’ a profile if a family member can confirm the death of that person. This turns the profile of the deceased into a public memorial page, which won’t show status updates but still allows loved ones to post messages. Twitter just locks your information down, while Google has what they call the Inactive Account Manager – after a defined period of inactivity, Google will  transfer your data to a trusted contact and/or shut down your account. In general, it seems that the data will be made available to loved ones (or the courts) if absolutely necessary. Several companies have positioned themselves as managers of you digital legacy – covered in this blogpost. For a more in-depth discussion of digital estate planning, see this NY Times article published last year.

Now for some more outlandish options for the digital afterlife. Several companies have caught on to this opportunity, and are offering to immortalise your digital persona for posterity. promises to create a digital version of the deceased, which will continue to post status updates and send messages. The company will parse your data to create an virtual ‘you’ based on your likes, browsing history and previous social media messages. LivesOn is another such project, which promises to keep tweeting for you after you die. With taglines like ‘When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting. Welcome to your social afterlife.’ (LivesOn) or the frankly misleading ‘Simply Become Immortal’ (, these services are not for everybody. Personally, I find the idea of a dead loved one tweeting something inane rather distasteful, and I would be downright upset if a digital ghost started messaging me about the good times we had back when they were alive.

Corporates aren’t the only ones thinking quite seriously about this stuff – there is a website, The Digital Beyond, which has been started to discuss and document these issues. The owners of the site have also written a bookdiscussing one’s options for curating the digital remains of a loved one. Academia is getting in on the act, too:researchers in the UK are studying how Western public mourning practices are changing. They document massive growth in online mourning rituals, such as the aforementioned memorial pages on Facebook, blogs dedicated to the memory of loved ones, and so on.

Another way of dealing with digital remains

I would like to consider another aspect of this discussion, one which I have not seen discussed much: the value of that data as a public resource. Data has become the unofficial second currency of business in the 21st century – just look at mobile developers. They run at a loss for years, until someone will buy their captive audience from them as data for the great online advertising machine. As it stands, the digital remnants of a life belong to the company that owned that data to begin with. But I have a alternative suggestion, which would be massively useful if implemented correctly. What if, after a reasonable mourning period (call it five years to be safe), all of that data was parsed, anonymised, and made publicly available, for free? Think of the wealth of data that would represent, over the next few decades, or even centuries. Big Data is an overhyped topic right now, but we are already seeing it’s mark across the world. Think of the complex modelling and forecasting that would be possible. Think of the boost to academia, industry, commerce, financial services and even sport. And applied to humanitarian work in health or the environment, it would quite literally change the world.