Losing someone close to you can be devastating. When you are still grieving over someone, suddenly there pops up a notification on your phone, about them being tagged in a social media post. Maybe the person who posted it doesn’t know it yet, so you inform them and that is sorted. But then you start to think, the same might happen to you. You could be the one congratulating someone on their wedding anniversary, without knowing that they passed away. Imagine how much sorrow you would bring to the grieving spouse.
Or, what if the situation is reversed- is there something you could do now to prepare yourself for digital death?
Ghost Profiles On The Internet
It is a grim reality that there are millions of profiles on the internet on various websites or social networks, which belong to the deceased. These ghost profiles remain on the web, making up for social media graveyards, and the numbers are on the rise.
People have a will instructing what their heirs must do when they leave. That is regarding physical death, but what to do with your online presence? There are studies conducted to find out what netizens think of a digital will. As per the 2017 Digital Legacy Association survey, 80% of the participants had no intention of leaving a digital will. Even though most social media giants have legacy and memorialization settings, users do not make plans for their profiles following their demise.
This is not just about social media profiles, people need to prepare for their digital valuables. In some cases, digital assets remain unknown even to the account holder’s family members. In instances where they know about the said assets, access is denied as the deceased made no such arrangement. This is such a huge monetary loss on the part of the grieving family.
Even if the concerned authorities understand it, they might not help you without a prior explicit agreement. Also, your family cannot gain access to your digital devices like laptops or phones if they don’t have your encryption keys.
Digital Death – The Ultimate Guide
Instead of ending up in sticky situations like the above or leaving your kin in the lurch, you need to prepare for digital death. People can have their digital identities removed, deleted or memorialized, provided they plan it prior to the death.
Even when you are gone from the physical world, these digital accounts go on. Sometimes, your family might need to contact support in order to get these deactivated. You could avoid this by doing it beforehand. However, it depends on the amount of control you actually have over your accounts. Moreover, the procedure for this is not universal. Each platform employs their own settings to deal with their user’s death. Sometimes, you might not own your content at all. You agree to the terms of service while signing up for the account, which is a complex agreement. Most of us choose to accept without even glancing at the wording.
Let us have a look at some networks and their approaches to digital death:
In one of the best approaches, Google prompts you to makes plans for more unfortunate circumstances in its settings. You can set a period of inactivity and choose a maximum of 10 executors for your account and grant them zero to full access. Or, you can have it deleted for all Google services and platforms.
You can assign a legacy contact, with no access to your account. Or have the account deleted, memorialized or the pages removed by contacting support. Similarly, you can do for Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.
You cannot plan like the above two, but immediate family members can get the account deactivated by showing enough proof. Such stringent measures are observed to prevent abuse.
You can get the deceased person’s account deleted by submitting a form. They also have something similar to the above-mentioned legacy contact.
This is also a platform where you need to submit documents like death certificate to take down the account. Authorized persons can also gain access by providing proof.
Most have their own authentication measures and can be easily done to accommodate the family. Some have shared access for keys and passwords.
You can gain direct access through the person’s computer or contact support with legal proof.
There are many other platforms like Yahoo, Snapchat, Microsoft, Tumblr, and AOL, which take a more traditional approach by asking for documentation.
Planning For Your Digital Death
Apart from the fact that this is a touchy subject to many, the whole concept is still in the nascent stage. In the US, there is still no uniform legislation regarding this. The law is also different for every country and many have not laid down a well-written procedure to handle this. Without written legal permission and prior approval of the deceased, the law’s hands are tied in granting your access. Even when you know the deceased person’s passwords, you cannot legally use them.
The other reason is that these days, people use too many digital devices, apps, and accounts. When it is already hard to keep track of their passwords, they don’t want to burden themselves with planning for this.
Why Plan Your Digital Afterlife
- Your priority must be to make things easier for your loved ones when you are gone.
- Make your online possessions accessible to people who can benefit from their monetary value.
- Keep them from falling into the wrong hands, where they could be misused.
- Help your family deal with the loss by organizing your digital profiles.
Steps To Take
- Make separate lists for different types of digital assets, according to who you want to leave those to.
- Learn more about digital death or take help from a professional. If needed, make it official by setting up power of attorney.
- Authorize someone to have direct access by setting up a password manager and synchronize your devices. Use USB encryption in addition to two-factor authentication to grant access to the right people.
- Keep the security keys safe, but easily accessible to trustees. Leave straightforward instructions to heirs and executors.
Though it feels like a taboo subject, by now you might have realized why you need to plan for your death. Digital death is definitely a serious issue, which should be discussed openly. Even when we dread of imaging a world without us in it, we owe it to our loved ones to make these plans.