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Digital death and the digital afterlife. How to have one and how to avoid it

Digital Death.

In 2012, the UK’s Sunday Times reported that actor Bruce Willis was going to sue Apple because he was not legally allowed to bequeath his iTunes collection of music to his children. The story turned out to be false (and shockingly bad journalism) but it did start a conversation about what we can, and can’t, do with our digital possessions.

It turns out that “possessions” is actually a misnomer. We actually don’t own the music, books and movies we “buy” from Apple and Amazon. As Amazon puts it in its license terms, “Kindle Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider”. In other words, we are allowed to read the content but we are not allowed to pass it on.

It comes as no surprise then that 93% of Americans surveyed were unaware or misinformed when asked about what digital assets they were able to pass on in the event of their death.

But the problems don’t stop there. Relatives of the recently deceased are frequently left with a range of decisions and challenges when it comes to dealing with their online accounts, especially social media. This is not made easier by the fact that every company implements different strategies in dealing with accounts belonging to a deceased user, coupled with the fact that in the UK in 2012 at least, the average user had 26 accounts. In most cases, getting an account shut down requires close family to produce a range of documentation to prove that they have the right to request that the account is terminated. This doesn’t allow for those relatives to get access to the content of the accounts however.

Taking a lead in making the process of handling accounts of the deceased simpler, Google has implemented their Inactive Account Manager. This allows anyone to specify what should happen in the event that an account has not been accessed for at least 3 months. Up to 10 people can be notified and the contents of the accounts, including services such as YouTube and Google+, shared with them. Alternatively, the accounts can simply be automatically deleted.

Facebook will, on request, “memorialise” a person’s Facebook page. This freezes the page with the same permissions as it had when it was last accessed by the user but will stop the page from being discovered in a search and will not actively promote the page to others.

The role of social media in the bereavement process has been the focus of an increasing amount of research. Generally, it is thought that social media can help in the bereavement process, although the persistence of a person’s profile online may make final acceptance of the passing more difficult. An interesting finding has been that when people post on a memorial page, they frequently do so in the present tense as if the person was still alive.

In the UK, a survey has found that 36% of people would like their profiles to continue being available online after they die, with a larger proportion of 18-24 year olds preferring this option than over 55s.

It doesn’t have to stop there. There are now services which allow you to continue Tweeting after you die using a bot that has studied your tweeting style. Other services allow users to send final messages via Facebook and LinkedIn.

Digital estate planning is starting to become more of the norm and people are being prompted to think about what they want done with their digital assets and accounts after they die. This is going to be a significant issue for social media companies in the future. Since Facebook started, about 10-20 million users will have died. This number will increase and eventually overtake the number of living users on the site, by one estimate, in 2060.

In one humorous envisioning of the future, Tom Scott has produced a disturbing possibility in his video “Welcome To Life: the singularity, ruined by lawyers”. In it, he describes a corporate sponsored network as a resting place for the digital version of your consciousness, that is, of course, ad sponsored. In this case as with the question today, it is perhaps best for all if your online social presence ends when you do.

Welcome To Life

Should Microsoft CEO Nadella step down over his poor advice to women?

nadella.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s excruciating gaffe that women should not ask for a raise but trust in “karma” that they would be rewarded eventually has been met with widespread condemnation. He made the statement, ironically enough, during an interview at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference. The conference , dedicated to women in technology, had a largely female audience who were confounded when Nadella gave his advice. The statement was met with an instant reaction on social media and Nadella, realising the seriousness of his mistake, issued a retraction saying that his answer to the question on whether women should ask for a pay raise was “completely wrong”.

Nadella’s statement is completely wrong for a whole host of reasons but in particular, it highlighted the fact that he seemed completely unaware of the context of the question given that Microsoft’s workforce is made up of just 29% women. When looking at the high status tech jobs at Microsoft, that number drops to 17%.

Nadella also seemed unaware that the 17% of the female tech work force at Microsoft are likely to be paid salaries of around 87% the salaries of men.

Of course, when you take merit-based bonuses into account, the gender pay gap is even greater, as women receive bonuses that are half the size of men’s.

He must have been unaware of these facts, because if he was aware of them, how could he possibly have thought that a woman’s silence would result in the “right thing” happening?

For Nadella, a 22 year veteran of Microsoft it is perhaps not surprising that he would have been unaware of the reality of being female and working at the company. The truth of the matter is that he may rarely have encountered women in his day-to-day job other than those employed in non-technical roles.

As CEO of the company however, it is particularly revealing that he would have been insensitive to the challenges women face in that working environment. His statements perhaps point to the limitations of his abilities and will now remain as the “elephant in the room” when he is trying to navigate Microsoft from being relegated into irrelevance by its stronger rivals, Apple and Google.

At the very least, Nadella joins the ranks of other CEOs who have made similarly public missteps, three of whom lost their jobs as a result:

Mozilla’s CEO, Brendan Eich eventually was forced to step down over his support of anti-gay marriage legislation

Lululemon’s CEO Dennis “Chip” Wilson also stepped down after blaming the fact that some of their yoga pants became see-through on overweight women saying that “Some women’s bodies “just don’t actually work” for Lululemon trousers”

BP CEO Tony Hayward was forced to resign after a series of PR bombs in dealing with the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill that included his famous quote “There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.”

The fact that a CEO can lose their job over a single statement reflects the nature of the job. The perceived importance of the CEO to a company’s performance is highly debated, especially when it is framed in terms of how much pay they are worth. However, the consensus is that CEOs have little impact on the overall performance of a company.

Nadella comes as a novice to the job of CEO and his turn in this position follows on from a long reign of the founders running the company. The decision to put him in charge reflected the difficulty the board had in finding an acceptable, rather than a necessarily suitable, replacement for Steve Ballmer.

A CEO’s main role however is to present the public face of the company and to inspire the market and their customers as a visionary. Perhaps we should have expected less of Nadella given that his first email to Microsoft employees encapsulated this vision as Microsoft enabling people to “do more” and that staff should “believe in the impossible”. Presumably the latter was aimed at female staff wanting equal representation and pay at the company.

The OECD’s scorecard for the Digital Economy. Australia OK, but could do better

Digital Economy

In a report that is due to be released next month, the OECD has drawn a picture of the state of the world’s digital economy, or at least that of its member countries. The reported data paint a picture of our modern digital life, with growing numbers of people accessing the Internet via high speed broadband or wireless on their mobiles, enabling them to take part in social networks and online shopping.

The digital citizen

Overall, the number of adults in the OECD countries that use the Internet increased from 60% in 2005 to 80% in 2013. The gap between young and old varies according to country but in the most advanced economies, up to 95% of young people are now Internet users. 70% of them also access the Internet at school. Buying products and services online has now become the norm, with 50% of users doing so, and an increasing proportion of that is now via a mobile device.

E-Government services were used on average by 35% of individuals and about 80% of businesses. E-Government is defined as people accessing information and submitting completed forms, including tax returns.

A particularly interesting set of data showed the degree to which users in a particular country would watch YouTube content from that country. This was highest in Japan where 75% of YouTube views were of Japanese videos, through to the USA where 33% of content viewed was of US origin and Australia where only 8% of views was of Australian content. Unfortunately the data doesn’t tell us where the majority of content Australians watched came from but one can only assume that it was from countries like the US and UK.

YouTube views of contents uploaded domestically, 2010-11 and 2013

It seems that being a digital native starts young in most OECD countries. The age of first access to the Internet in 2012 ranged from 33% being under 6 in Denmark to the majority of Russians being over 10 years old. Australia, as with many things digital, was somewhere in the middle with the majority of kids being under 9 when they first accessed the Internet.

The not-so-digital citizen

Not all is quite as switched on as it would appear however. In the EU, over 60% of the labour force reported that they had insufficient computer skills they considered necessary to apply for a new job. This included just under 40% of people with a university education. Again in the EU, 30% of Internet users cited concerns about security as the reason they wouldn’t buy anything online.

Computer use at work also varied dramatically across OECD countries with countries like Russia and Italy reporting over 50% of workers not using a computer at work. This figure was around 26% in the US and as low as 17% in Norway.

Digital companies

Companies have been slower than individuals to adopt digital ways but they have recently been speeding up. According to the OECD, “It took 15 to 20 years for slightly more than three quarters of enterprises to develop a website, but only a few years for around 30% of businesses to become active on social networks”. In the OECD countries, 94% of businesses have access to broadband, 75% had a website, but only 20% conducted any sales online. The standout country here was New Zealand where 80% of companies purchased goods online and 45% of companies sold goods online. The use of enterprise resource planning tools was lowest in the UK where only 10% of companies used this type of software.

Wired (and wireless) countries

A key enabler for a digital economy and digital citizens is access to broadband. The main driver here has been access to wireless broadband, principally enabled through the mobile phone. Almost 75% of OECD citizens now have a mobile wireless broadband subscription. In Australia, there has been a radical increase in subscriptions since 2009 where the figure was less than 20%, to now where there are more subscriptions than inhabitants. Australia now has the second highest wireless broadband usage of all OECD countries.

Fixed, or wired, broadband subscriptions in OECD countries tell a different story. Korea leads the world with over 70% of fixed broadband subscribers having speeds above 10 Mbps. The USA is over 30% but Australia is down near the bottom of the list at 10%.

Fixed (wired) broadband penetration rates by speed tiers, December 2013

The Digital Economy

The impact of information and communication technologies (ICT) on the economy is huge. ICT companies spend more on the research and development than the rest of the economy and across the OECD productivity in IT companies is about 60% higher than the rest. Other analyses have estimated that the impact of wireless broaband on the Australian economy has been around $34 billion a year.

As countries continue to look for ways of boosting their economies, investing in productivity and innovation through information technologies seems the most feasible way of achieving this. This is especially true for countries like Australia where the reliance on mining is not sustainable.