In my end-of-year-cleaning-digital-assets procedure I have found an Outlook contact of a user deceased some years ago.
I have just tweaked this blog’s stylesheet – although I know that the layout will revert to the default when I will have died and nobody will pay for the WordPress’ Custom Design feature anymore.
So what will happen to our cloud data and our social media profiles when we eventually die?
I tried to find this out for some profiles and networks I use:
[Voice from the future: A few years after having written this post, many links have died. I do not change them though.]
Facebook allows for the submission of a Memorialization Request. This request has to include proof of the person’s death. Facebook will try to prevent references to memorialized accounts from appearing on Facebook in ways that may be upsetting to the person’s friends and family. This means you are deprived of the right of shocking your ancestors via the content of your Facebook profile. Your family would also have the right to request the removal of your page.
Thus if you want to live forever through your writing you better write on real paper. However, it is comforting that anyone can send private messages to the deceased person.
It was hard to find related information for Google+ accounts as all searches for ‘Google’ and ‘dead’ yield articles about Google, Google Plus, Google Reader or other Google products being dead. You should search for digital afterlife instead. Google helps you with Plan[ing] your digital afterlife with Inactive Account Manager.
You can tell us what to do with your Gmail messages and data from several other Google services if your account becomes inactive for any reason. For example, you can choose to have your data deleted — after three, six, nine or 12 months of inactivity
In contrast to Facebook Google puts you in control.
I have enabled Inactive Account Manager now for research purposes. You can configure your time-out to 18 months maximum – then Google will process the configured steps, such as contacting your configured trusted persons. This is probably the best way for web 2.0 providers to collect data about the network of persons that really matters to us.
LinkedIn requires a surviving user to fill in and digitally sign the Verification of Death form. Start here.
You might worry about the destiny of those flattering recommendations: Endorsements given by deceased persons are gone then, too. But LinkedIn responds:
Please don’t take it personally!
Recommendations are tied to Accounts,
so if the account is closed, …,
everything goes with it.
It’s just the way the system works.
Twitter allows for a seemingly informal procedure: You can (snail) mail or fax to the address give here – which just includes a fax number. We cannot tweet from the grave as [They] are unable to provide account access to anyone regardless of his or her relationship to the deceased.
WordPress like[s] to help the family and/or estate determine what happens with their loved one’s WordPress.com site. This refreshingly casual form allows for transfer of the ownership to next of kin.
Thus summarizing social networks deal with deceased users by allowing for deletion by legitimate heirs, by freezing the site and turning in into a memorial page, or by giving ownership to authorized persons. Google tries to give the mortal users some control upfront.
It seems that none of those networks allow for the user stating his or her will, such as: My page and all that humiliating comments and rants I have published throughout my lifetime should be online forever.
If you have followed my blog for a while you I am attracted – in an odd way – by the creepiness of futuristic visions. I owe Dan Mullin for the pointer to this much too realistic video and for asking Who owns the digital person?
Before our minds are ready to be uploaded to a futuristic cloud we have e.g. the following options:
DeadSocial allows us all to say our final goodbyes on our own terms and for us to extend our digital legacy using the social web. Your trusted social media will executors will trigger your tweeting and posting from the grave for hundred years to come. Lawyers, it’s your turn to explain to me what will happen of these executors disagree with next of kin.
PasswordBox (that has acquired Legacy Locker) offers what is called in IT lingo a single-sign-on password manager. All your passwords are stored and transferred in encrypted fashion to the service, and you can grant permissions to trusted persons to access your credentials after your death. The security features are impressing – and you are right in worrying about what happens if you forget the master password.
an artificial intelligence experiment. LivesOn makes a new Twitter account for you while you’re still alive and analyzes your original account for your interests, tastes and syntax. As time goes on, the LivesOn feed will begin posting updates, after learning your style. Users will be able to favorite tweets to give feedback, increasing the system’s intelligence. When the time comes, you can nominate an “executor” to your LivesOn will, and they will decide whether to keep your account live.
“The afterlife is not a new idea, it’s been around for quite a long time with all the different versions of heaven and hell,” Lean Mean Fighting Machine’s Bedwood said. “To me this isn’t any stranger than any one of those. In fact, it might be less strange.”