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Digital Privacy Rights of the Deceased

(What happens to my online data after I die?)

With the proliferation of cloud and online storage facilities, it seems now that death is not what it used to be -  your online self is left abandoned, adrift in the cloud without so much as a first mate.

So how then can we assign a captain to our Digital Data Ship and ensure that we are not run-aground or steered onto the rocks? Keeping with the analogy, it seems a number of lighthouses are available out in the void but who is in control of them and are they actually claiming salvage rights to your digital legacy?

It is not a very pleasant subject and certainly not at the top of anyone’s list of priorities especially when composing a eulogy, but it’s a question worth asking in this day and age - What happens to all my online data when I’m gone?

With Google offering FREE unlimited cloud storage for everyone, this makes this question even more important to answer. If we take into account the following forms of digital data: Web based businesses, Pay Pal Accounts, Amazon Kindle, DropBox, iTunes, they all hold information and possibly paid for items (in PayPal’s case actual money) and there could potentially be entire lives stored digitally for anyone to access, claim or even sell. Additional to this, how can relatives access your abandoned data and hold on to precious private moments, keep them safe and ultimately decide who else can access it. (don’t worry I shall be going over the Terms and Conditions of Googles’ FREE storage offering with a fine tooth comb in due course).

This question goes beyond the personal information we’ve entered when signing up to social networking sites, as all of us leave a digital trail of data. Mobile phones, tablets, public wireless networks, image metadata…it all contributes to our digital library of data. This information is very valuable and all becomes part of what is known as “Big Data”. Crunching the numbers and analysing what comes out gives a vast amount of intelligence about things like social trends, visits to the doctor and how many cups of coffee we drink! Knowing what we know about how much information is being gathered and how quickly it can be analysed should open our eyes to the potential implications of having personal or financial information out in the void, roaming free.
OK, so this is important….what can we do about it?

Something Useful:

1: This Add-On for Firefox allows you to export all your saved passwords to an XML or CSV file. (Safari and Chrome both have built in facilities to save out the passwords from their respective “Tools” or “Options” menus.)
2: Take a look in your email Inbox as when you sign up for online accounts in most cases you get an email asking you to confirm your email address and this may also contain your username and password.

Google lets you assign an “Inactive Account Manager” to your account. This feature let you assign access rights to another individual. Details of this can be found here

Facebook already have a procedure in place for removing the data of a deceased relative as long as you can provide the birth and death certificate and additionally proof that you are the lawful representative of the deceased.
You can report a Deceased person here

It’s quite easy to delete a deceased LinkedIn member’s account. Details can be found here

Twitter also caters for the removal of a members profile if they have died and again like Facebook they require certain information (such as death certificate). Details here.

Again the Death Certificate is required but no options to download any data or access to the account. Here

Both offer no way to officially close an account following your death. You also can not bequeath any purchased music, videos or ebooks. This is because you don’t own the song you just purchase a license to play it and that license ends when you do.

Practical Tips

I recently read some really good advice regarding safeguarding access to your digital domain following your death.PasswordBox has Legacy Locker which allows you to specify a “digital heir”.

Saving your usernames and passwords in a secure location and then advising the executor of your estate where to find this information and who should have it contained within your will also seems like good advice.

The digital self should have exactly the same rights as the physical and as it stands this is not always the case so without making the appropriate preparations, your loved ones may have no control over your digital Afterlife!

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