Many of us live our lives through our online identities using social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. But what happens when we die?
Uncomfortably for some, our digital lives have the potential of continuing on into e-immortality.
All you need to do is pass your login details to others, and this will allow them to continue on as your doppelganger.
Given this possibility, it was only a matter of time before someone came up with the idea of providing this service. Now you can store your log-in credentials for Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, or indeed any website, with a third party (in this case a website called PassMyWill) while still alive.
In the event of your death, PassMyWill will notify your friends, family or whoever you’ve deigned worthy of your details and log-in credentials for your various systems.
That lucky person can then continue to access these systems by assuming your identity and therefore continue to act on your behalf, even though you are no longer in the land of the living.
But wait …
Any service offering to keep all your online credentials should be treated with deep suspicion.
Without rigorous assessment of the provider’s security controls, governance and operational protocols, you will likely have no information regarding who has access to your details. Even though a given website’s creators claim to protect your credentials through encryption or other methods, these are only claims.
At very least, you should seek evidence of certification to industry privacy and security standards.
So what should you know before you commit yourself to haunting the internet after death?
Many social networking sites are US-based, so if you’re based elsewhere you may face the challenge of international legal jurisdiction.
You must be aware of the rights and obligations for each site in terms of your ability to transfer credentials to other people.
Managing password changes
Given most reputable sites require regular changes of passwords, you would need to remember to update your new credentials on the third-party site. If you forget to do this, it undermines the effectiveness of the solution altogether.
Who owns the digital “you”?
Answering this question depends on which site or service you are accessing. For sites such as Facebook, you have no exclusive title over information you enter into it, and in some instances, anything that you enter remains the property of that site.
Essentially, they “own” you. For others, such as your banking website, you would have agreed to abide by strict policies of never divulging your details to others.
Violating this agreement by deliberately providing this sensitive data to others, could expose you (while alive) or your estate to a liability in the case of a fraud or other misappropriation.
Interference with the winding up of your estate
Depending on the country and legal jurisdiction in which your estate is being wound up, your estate executors and administrators are generally legally responsible for the orderly management of your estate.
This includes taking control of your assets from the moment of your passing to the discharging of your will.
Allowing any other parties access to, or control over, parts of your estate and its assets during this period, where they are not party to the winding up of your estate, may expose them to litigation or prosecution.
Your online presence after your passing
Most, if not all, reputable social networking sites have processes for managing your online accounts and other details after your death. They require proof of your passing in one form or another in order to take any action.
Facebook also has a stated policy of “memorialising” profiles of deceased users on request. This includes hiding the deceased’s public profile, preventing any future sign-in attempts and leaving the wall open for family and friends to comment as they see fit.
Facebook will require formal and proper notification of your passing, before they will “memorialise” your profile. Services such as these may be of great comfort to your loved ones.
Specific problems with PassMyWill
There are a number of specific challenges with PassMyWill:
- It does not use a secure, encrypted internet connection, so the internet traffic between your keyboard at their servers is open for anyone to intercept.
- It suggests you use a credit card number (or Social Security Number, as it’s US based) as an encryption key. This is a security no-no.
- It asks you use a non-encrypted, plain text email that would be sent to those you nominate when you die, and it again suggests using your credit card.
- There is no legal ownership stated anywhere on the site.
In principle, services such as PassMyWill are dubious to say the least. To offer the optimum assurances to both yourself, while still alive, and your estate, after your passing, you should enter into a formalised escrow arrangement.
Only then can you rest in peace in the knowledge your beyond-the-grave tweets are being managed properly.