Generation Z and, to some extent, the Millennials have grown up in a digital age. They take most of their news from online sources as well as store much more of their own information online.
As more of our lives take place online, questions about death inevitably crop up. What happens to your online persona when you die? Who owns this information and how can your loved ones deal with it?
Facebook now has the option to designate a legacy contact. This person will be able to take control of your account upon death and administer it as if they were administering a physical estate. They will not have the ability to access private messages, but will be able to download pictures and change your account to a memorial mode.
Some email services such as Gmail and Outlook (formerly Hotmail) allow executors access to a deceased’s email. Others, such as Yahoo, do not allow access to third parties in spite of being told by courts they should do. In addition, not many people are aware that you actually licence each song you “buy” through iTunes. Therefore, when you die, your account dies too and the music reverts back to Apple.
There are dozens of online companies that offer posthumous services – from online digital asset storage, listing funeral wishes and social memorialising. Their popularity is growing and it is hard not to see that they will play a bigger part in people’s lives (and deaths) in the future. DeadSocial is a company which specialises in this area. I spoke to its founder, James Norris, to find out more:
1. What does DeadSocial do?
DeadSocial provide tools, tutorials, support and innovation around digital legacy and digital end of life issues.
We launched our free ‘goodbye & digital legacy’ tool at SXSW a couple of years ago. We are currently expanding and improving the service to help those of us who engage with digital services when planning for our own death. “DeadSocial helps Facebook and Twitter users prepare items to be posted at specific future dates and can help send (prepared) messages to loved ones, for example, on their birthdays well into the future” – British Medical Journal
2. How does it work? We provide a directory of tutorials for the general public.
Our goodbye and free service provides an environment where users create a series of private messages. Messages can consist of text, images and video. The messages are saved and only sent to the allocated DeadSocial, Facebook and Twitter profiles once we pass away. This allows us to release unseen photos, create discussion and say “goodbye” in our own way after we have died.
See https://vimeo.com/59514189 for more information.. Other posthumous services have now launched (often with a fee for usage). We believe that such tools will continue to be developed both by service providers and third parties
3. Why did you create it?
We are spending more of our lives on social media sites and online. For many people (including myself) it is logical to be able to say “goodbye” on these services. Death in the digital arena is an area that is constantly changing. It is therefore important for the general public to understand what they can and cannot do on each platform in relation to end of life, end of life planning and bereavement.
4. You have information on your website regarding storage of passwords, Will Aid and funeral advice – these are currently informative, do you intend to do more with these services?
We provide unbiased information about death in today’s digital world. Yes we intend to promote good work within the sector and link to areas that we do not specialise in. This will help people make the best decisions both in the digital and physical world.
5. Are there any user license issues? For example, who owns the posthumous online posts and tweets?
We (DeadSocial) state in our terms of service that each user (from DeadSocial’s perspective) is owned by the user. When a user distributes a message to a to third party social network ownership may alter (depending on the service to which it is assigned (for example Facebook, Twitter etc)
6. What are your thoughts on a central ‘registry’ from where all online accounts could be deactivated or transferred?
Due to the fragmented nature of the internet and the way in which it is used I do not believe that this is achievable. DeadSocial provides step by step guides for the general public to carry out these tasks separately.
7. Have you noticed a trend in online posthumous services?
It is hard to plan for death. We try to make the subject matter easier by providing all of the information in an open, transparent and free. We spend a lot of time raising awareness of this important area. Other posthumous services have now launched (often with a fee for usage). We believe that such tools will continue to be developed both by service providers and third parties
8. What do you think the future holds for online services such as yours? Do you see any further developments?
We are working hard on some very interesting initiatives whilst campaigning to highlight the importance of this area.
James Norris is the Founder of DeadSocial.org