Every day, we leave some kind of personal footprint on the internet. Humans make digital diaries of themselves all the time.
And because now we routinely live, die, and remember the dead in the online space, we’re beginning to realize that the data we generate in these interactions are leaving big traces.
So, have we ever stopped to wonder what state our personal data will be in when we ascend to the afterlife in death?
While there is no universal answer to fully erasing our online identities, I believe the closest thing we have to the digital soul is the data we have left across social networks, emails, documents, photos, videos, browser history and our location data.
So, who will have access to these digital files when we’re gone?
Although there is no way to predict what issues we will leave online when we die, over the years a lot of major tech companies have developed easier setups for all involved with them. Facebook, Apple and Google for example have a feature called “Legacy Contacts”.
A legacy contact is a person you choose to take care of your account once you pass away. This should only be someone you really trust.
If you add a legacy contact, that person will be able to make decisions about your accounts once they are memorialized. They can accept friend requests, change your profile picture, and even decide who can post tributes.
People can add legacy contacts to their accounts at any time before they die.
If Digital Characters can live on, what should happen to them?
You may not hold on to so much on Facebook these days, but it is likely to be a point of contact for you and many people in your life, past and present.
Historically, people had their contracts dissolved upon death. Data protection regulations had not considered the dead to be data subjects, leaving data controllers free to shape our digital lives.
However, with new options set in place, when we die or lose a loved one, we can now have access to their information so we don’t lose it completely.
Facebook’s legacy contacts allows for maintenance and control of your account and data and in the event of a messy situation, a request to remove your account can be made.
With a memorialized account, loved ones will be able share memories after a person dies and the content the deceased person has left behind remains on Facebook and stays visible to the audience it was shared with.
Google (Gmail Accounts)
In January of 2021, a study indicated that there are over 1.8 billion active Gmail users. And Gmail being the largest email platform in the world, it is only proper that the search giant has had to come up with an efficient way to take care of accounts that are neglected by thousands every day.
With so much personal and important information like our bank details, memories, etc. saved on this platform, many people unfortunately do not have a plan for their email accounts when they die, so loved ones can’t decide what to do with them.
The good news is Google has an Inactive Account Manager feature which allows account holders to decide whether to delete their account or pass (some) account information to survivors after a period of inactivity. You can choose how long Google waits before marking your account as inactive while still alive.
So it looks like Google is well prepared and is totally on your side in such death-like situations.
Thus, protecting access to your passwords, login information, two-factor authentication (2FA) information, and more.
On the other hand, contacts and legal representatives can get a better ground to negotiate your account status with Google and access vital information if needed through this form.
Inactive Accounts are automatically deleted after two years.
Many people store a lot of information on their Apple devices and in iCloud and may also want friends or loved ones to be able to access their favorite data and memories after they’re gone.
Until now, when a loved one dies, there has been no easy way to access their account and absolutely no way to unlock their phone without knowing their passcode. According to iCloud’s terms of service, the deceased person’s data goes with them.
However, with Apple’s new Digital Legacy Program for account holders, users can mark up to five people, as legal contacts, and give them access to their iCloud data and information. This includes things like photos, notes, mail, and even an Apple ID.
Moreover, there are some hurdles to overcome, because Apple still requires proof of death to ensure that your contacts aren’t trying to spy on your stuff while you’re still breathing. Which is great by the way!
Despite this cool feature, will your data be available forever? No! Once your loved one requests access, Apple will give them an expiration date. After this date, your account and data will be deleted.
Not every platform is as well prepared to face death as Facebook, Google, and Apple. And while death is inevitable, I would say to keep your memories close because we have no control over what happens tomorrow.
Things you want to remember in your later life in terms of information or memory, keep them close to you in a fail-safe state.
However, what you choose to do with your accounts is a matter of personal preference and security.