Let me get one dire fact out of the way quickly: death is inevitable. We try, whilst not focussing too hard on it, to plan for the day in the hopes of making things easier for our loved ones. We write wills and we lay out specific instructions for how our possessions and affairs are to be dealt with. But one thing that lawyers still disagree about is our digital archives. What happens to our Facebook profile when we’re gone? Who gets our downloads? And who will handle a lifetime’s worth of email for us?
Unsurprisingly I’m not the first one to raise such morbid questions. Plenty of forward-thinking people have visualised this problem and devised elegant and brilliant solutions to ensure that our loved ones don’t end up embroiled in a legal battle over our Yahoo password. And since just telling your family your password could constitute a breach of a site’s T&Cs, the solutions provided are varied.
At one end of the scale there’s Twitter, who will close and delete the account of a deceased user when provided with a copy of their death certificate. A lifetime of 140-character nuggets of wit and wisdom are expelled from the web. Facebook will perform the same service but also offer an alternate, more memorable option: a memorial page. After confirming the user is deceased Facebook will isolate the page, ensuring only existing friends can access it, remove all sensitive information and posts (including your reputation-destroying photos), and allow friends to post memorial messages.
But the options don’t end there. For a more complete online afterlife solution companies such as Legacy Locker (there are many others too) allow you more control over what happens with your digital assets.
These services allow you to control access to social networks, financial accounts, emails and whatever else you have online, ensuring the wrong people don’t see something they shouldn’t. You can compose letters or instructions to be passed on to loved ones too. The end of your time on Earth is then confirmed by several trusted people, or by periodically emailing you to check your state of mortality.
On the other hand some websites are trying to add a new element to the unavoidable. The after-death message service ifidie, which allows you to compose a Facebook post which is sent out upon your death, launched a competition (of sorts). Users have the chance to record a video message and the ‘lucky’ winner will have theirs broadcast on global media outlets. How does someone win? Simple. They just have to be the one to die first.
And what of the more tangible elements of your digital life? Most people now spend their life acquiring a wealth of digital music, video, ebooks and software. The money spent throughout a lifetime of purchases can reach into the tens of thousands, but unlike your CD, DVD or book collection, these are not so easy to divide amongst family members in a lawyer’s office. Whilst there isn’t any legal framework for such transferals, both Apple and Amazon’s T&Cs have it covered. Since they don’t sell you a track or ebook, just a license to a copy, they are non-transferable. Once you die the right to the copy dies with you.
As of writing there hasn’t been a case where legal action has been taken against anyone after transferring their MP3s. Eventually it is something that will have to be legislated for, bearing in mind the value (monetary and sentimental) of some libraries. But for now it’s worth noting that whilst it’s unlikely that anyone will stop you, you have no legal right to inherit grandad’s Elvis collection.
Lucidica would like to offer some assistance when planning for your digital demise and so we’ve drawn up this snappy little form for you to fill in and give to whoever handles these things for you. It’s not even remotely legally sound but it gives you some chance to have your say in who you want to bequeath your digital assets to, and what you’d like done with them.