Want an online afterlife?

When I was a kid there was a locked filing box that used to sit at the back of the cupboard in the hall that contained everything that one of my parents would need to know in the event of the death of the other, such as the bank book, marriage certificate and mortgage papers (along with, presumably, the mythical Premium Bonds and the whereabouts of the key to the booze cupboard).

Nowadays it's all rather different because so much of our lives are played out online. We need to think about what happens to that online life after we die. Who gets access to your photo library that you store in the Cloud? Who can access your Twitter feed, Facebook page and update your status on Linked-In?

Social media sites have very fixed rules about what you can and cannot do with a deceased person's account unless you have the password. It's impractical to make that information available to a loved one, especially if passwords are regularly changed and besides, how many people do you know who'd be willing to let someone have access to everything they ever did online?

If you haven't left access details, how do your loved ones manage your online estate?

The first thing to be clear about is that online you're immortal. Even if you ask Facebook to delete an account, they will remove it from public view, but they will also archive it and all of its content, as will Google with their accounts.

The second thing to know is that, unlike finding Granny's letters in a hatbox in the wardrobe that you can read if you so choose, the deceased person of an online account is the only person who will ever have access to its contents, and it will not be made available to you just simply you're next of kin, because it's deemed a breach of privacy. There is no clear indication of what these sites would do in the event that, for example, you granted Facebook permission to give someone access to your account (but hadn't left them the password).

It's worth noting that leaving your passwords to a loved one is all well and good, but if the recipient uses them they are in effect pretending to be you and that's against the law.

Check out each site's guidance. Having your Facebook account memorialised means that your friends can still see your timeline and pictures but they don't get things like birthday reminders. In the US, Facebook users can choose who gets access to their account when they die and it's hoped this will be rolled out to all Facebook users in the future. Google has an Inactive Account Management system that will notify a nominated person in the event an account has been inactive for a predetermined amount of time.

Don't stop the music

Social media accounts and pictures of the family pet aside, what about assets contained within other online accounts, such as iTunes?

Just because you paid for your digital library of books or music, doesn't mean you own the content. You have effectively paid for a licence that permits you to listen to the music or read the book, so when you die, the 'asset', ie the permit, dies with you. This is written into the providers' terms and conditions.

Online ever after

Whether you like it or not, you'll continue to exist digitally. You can burn love letters you don't want anyone to know about, but you can't do that online, so be careful what you put up there in the first place!


Posted by Kirsty McIntosh on Monday, May 16, 2016



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