Apple in iOS 15.2 is making it easier for your loved ones to access your personal data in the event of your death with the addition of a Legacy Contact feature. A person set as your Legacy Contact gets a special code that can be provided to Apple alongside […]
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!
From digital wills to online memorials, psychologist Elaine Kasket on online life after death
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There are 2.37 billion people who regularly log on to Facebook at least once a month to send messages and check out photos, yet in 50 years’ time there could be more dead people with profiles on the platform than living ones, according to research by the Oxford Internet Institute.
What happens to all the information we’ve created online when we kick the bucket? Who owns it and what can we do about it?
These questions psychologist Elaine Kasket is attempting to answer in her book, All The Ghosts In The Machine: The Digital Afterlife Of Your Personal Data. Released in paperback this week, it aims to help us understand our digital footprints and how we can take control of them before it’s too late.
What Kasket wants you to know, first, is that it’s not a book about death or grieving, it’s about understanding how we use tech and its impact. “What people need to realise is that because of the involvement and control of tech companies, there are a lot of issues around access, a lot of expectations, that are not met. We assume that digital stuff obeys the same law of ownership and control as physical stuff.”
Kasket says her interest in digital death started when she was a teenage goth in the mid-Eighties as the internet was starting to gain traction. But it really took off when she joined Facebook in 2007. When 32 people died in the Virginia Tech shooting in the US that year, the platform decided to memorialise accounts instead of instantly deleting them, following criticisms from family and friends of those killed. “I was interested from a psychological perspective in how people were using the site and commenting on photos to speak directly to the deceased.”
Dealing with memorialisation online was something Twitter recently grappled with. Last November, the platform had to roll back plans to cull accounts that hadn’t been used in more than six months following a public outcry over what would happen to accounts of the deceased. The Twitter profile of former Guardian journalist and writer Deborah Orr is a particular sore point for her friends and followers — author Jojo Moyes tweeted to say it felt like she had been “erased” after the platform removed the account.
But for Kasket, this is part of the conundrum. “What kind of moral obligation does Twitter have? It’s considered a duty of care to preserve the data of dead users. Why? Isn’t that just another instance of us relying on technology to do the things that we should bear the responsibility for ourselves?”
What’s online isn’t forever, particularly when it comes to storing all this data in the cloud. It takes money and energy to keep servers going — we already know the environmental costs of bitcoin, with one study last year estimating that for every $1 generated in the cryptocurrency’s value in 2018, and climate damages in the US. Think of the energy being used to keep dead social media profiles alive. As the OII figures demonstrated, it’ll only get bigger.
Then there’s the issues of trying to shut down a social media account owned by someone who is no longer here. Passwords could be put away and only an authenticated fingerprint could unlock them. Kasket is particularly worried about the impact of deepfakes: videos edited using AI to modify someone’s speech. “If James Dean is going to be deepfaked into a film, then a citizen can be deepfaked into a bank account being drained when the system is not aware the person is dead.”
So what can we do about it? You can begin by making a digital will. Farewill, a digital will-writing specialist, raised £7.5 million in funding last year (farewill.com). Make sure to include information such as: “I want my Facebook profile to be memorialised.” You can also nominate a digital executor who can remove or memorialise your accounts; Google and Facebook both offer these services, whilst Twitter says it’s “looking into” it.
Be wary of what you give access to. If you have digital skeletons, then maybe lock those accounts away instead of opening them up to future discoveries. Kasket also advises “going old-school” — the photos that you have stored on Facebook? Download them onto an external hard drive or print them. “It’s a fascinating conundrum that we’re dealing with,” says Kasket. “Once upon a time the dead had no rights to privacy or data protection but that’s before we left behind so much identifiable and personable data.”
Before you post that next Twitter musing on the headline of the day, maybe use that time to look into creating a digital will. After all, there’s no time like the present.
- All the Ghosts In The Machine: The Digital Afterlife Of Your Personal Data by Dr Elaine Kasket is out now (£9.99, Robinson/Little Brown UK)
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