Ever thought about who controls digital assets when you or a loved one passes away?
Everyday we pour more of our lives into our digital accounts. Photos, status updates, tweets, blog posts and emails have all combined to form our digital legacy, our virtual footprint of online artifacts left behind to be immortalised in cyberspace.
While many may not agree with the practice, the rapid expansion of social media technology has brought with it online memorials and tribute pages to allow for a place of both mourning and celebration of a lost loved one.
However, this emerging world of digital death has also brought with it much debate around our privacy and what control we have over these details in the event of our death.
Digital Death Policies of Online Accounts
Recent years have seen an influx of lawsuits around who controls your “digital assets” after your passing.
Conflicting death policies of different email and social media services, coupled with a lack of uniformity around international digital privacy legislation, has led to an extremely complex new ground for litigation.
In the case of Facebook, ongoing legal battles led the company to introduce a new ‘memorialisation’ feature to enable friends and family to freeze the account.
In addition to this option, the decedent's family is able to deactivate or delete the profile.
Deceased Twitter accounts can be closed by the family upon the provision of a Twitter username and obituary. They will also be able to download a copy of all of the public tweets made by the account holder.
What may be more concerning is the death policies of some email providers.
Did you know Hotmail will send a copy of all of your emails to your family before closing your account?
Or that that Google+ and Gmail will provide account information to family members provided certain conditions are met?
All of this may lead us to think a bit more about our own digital legacy and how we want to be remembered by our loved ones after death.
The Arrival of the Digital Executor and Digital Wills
While it may be a morbid thought, this growing concern for the destiny of digital assets has given rise to digital wills that enable people to pre-determine what action they wish to be taken with their online accounts.
With this has come the recognition for the need for a “digital executor” to uphold the decedent's wishes.
There are now a number of digital estate planner services available online that can assist with this process by safeguarding important digital assets and making it easier to find information necessary to maintain your digital will.
These services are not only useful for people looking to shut down personal banking and social media accounts but also for companies that may need to transfer ownership of large online accounts to beneficiaries.
Some of the digital estate planning services now available include cirruslegacy.com, legacylocker.com and securesafe.com.
Despite there being much concern around the loss of privacy and control of our digital data following death, there are steps that can be taken to ensure that your memory is not tarnished by the airing of your digital indiscretions!
There are a number of digital memorial services now available online to help you securely store your assets and let your family remember you as you wish.
Lifenaut.com allows users to store their life experience by uploading pictures, videos and documents to create an organised, digital archive to be preserved after death.
Future generations can look back on the profile of lost family members and friends to celebrate their unique qualities and legacy.
A Constantly Shifting Landscape
What is certain is that the world of digital death is ever-changing.
We can only expect to see a myriad of adjustments to legislation controlling personal account dealings of digital assets.
That said, a growing awareness of this can only benefit users and we now have the ability more than ever to preserve our online memories in an effective and secure way.
This was written by Fred Schebesta director of Finder.com.au, which also operates LifeInsuranceFinder.com.au. This free comparison service aims to help consumers make informed decisions, especially when it comes to dealing with family assets.