Online Life After Death

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Are you prepared for the digital afterlife?

Everyone has a digital footprint. But we rarely think about what might happen to it after we die. Our wills protect our families and property, but what happens to our blogs, Facebook pages, tweets, Google accounts and email?

Unless you take steps to protect your online property, also known as digital assets, anything you have ever put on the internet, from audio or video files to Twitter posts, run the risk of mismanagement or disappearing altogether.

In their new book, “Your Digital Afterlife“, John Romano and Evan Carroll discuss ways to protect our online legacy, and how it is never too early to get started. They suggest taking full stock of your assets and naming a “digital executor” to be in charge of your online life.

How do I take stock and manage my digital assets?

The first step is identification. Write out the websites and digital devices you use on a regular basis that have passwords and log-in information. This can include financial sites, email accounts, social media accounts, music services, e-books, smartphones and other devices like Kindles and iPads.

Once you have compiled your information and passwords, it’s time to authorize your digital executor. This can be as simple as talking to a family member and letting them know about your password list. Or, you can hire a lawyer and assign someone in your will as the digital executor.

It’s important to make sure your digital executor knows to alert friends and followers of your death on those platforms and whether or not to leave your blogs, tweets and Facebook posts open to the public.

What does being a digital executor mean?

A digital executor might be asked to do a variety of tasks:

  • Archive personal files, photos and videos, or distribute these files to family members
  • Delete specified files from a computer
  • Maintain certain online accounts, such as blog sites
  • Maintain or close online financial accounts, or transfer them to another family member
  • Inform online communities or online friends of the person’s death
  • Close specified online accounts, such as social media accounts, subscription services, or any accounts that are paid for like Amazon Prime or Netflix.

Social Media Accounts

Social media accounts have policies to allow users to decide when their account will expire or give permission for someone else to manage it, in case of death or an emergency.

Facebook allows a deceased person’s profile to become a memorial so friends and family members can share memories of the person on their wall. Additionally, the person’s profile will no longer show up on the “suggested friends” sidebar and only confirmed friends can see the profile.

Twitter will close users’ accounts if family members submit a formal request with a copy of the death certificate.

Google has the “Inactive Account Manager” feature which allows people to set up a contact who will be notified once the account has been inactive for a certain amount of time. This contact will then have access to the Google account information the user has specified.

Digital Death Planning Services

There is a growing number of online services that help you manage your data in the event of an emergency or death.

Companies like Capsoole let you decide how each of your password-protected accounts will be managed. The online service maps out what decisions need to be made for each type of digital asset and has users name a “trustee” who will know to notify the company and activate the plan if you die.

PasswordBox is another digital afterlife manager. It’s a free service that allows users to securely store, retrieve and share passwords or other personal data with people they choose.

The New York Times reported that one of the best known examples of a digital legacy disappearing because it wasn’t protected happened in 2006. Leslie Harpold, a blogger, died unexpectedly without any specifics on what should be done with her two websites, both of which has a large following. After four years the sites disappeared, and even though her avid followers asked her family to keep them open, they made the decision to let them expire.

Ensuring that your digital life is protected is becoming more important each day, especially as our online footprints continue to grow. It is important to protect who you are online, and ensure that your life’s digital work or information is protected and preserved, while letting family members have peace of mind.

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About Author

Brittany

Brittany studied English at Grove City College. She loves a good short story collection and writing about how technology shapes the world around us. Also, French fries.

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