CBC Radio One aired an interview this morning about the problems that arise when people pass away without having addressed how to manage their “digital footprint” or “digital legacy” after they’re gone. Today’s show was prompted by the latest effort in Nebraska to propose legislation to allow next of kin to control digital accounts after a user has passed away
I’ve faced this dilemma over the past year, when facebook asked me if I wanted to be friends with my recently-passed mother-in-law.
You see, she fully had no more intention of leaving anytime near when she set up her account, than we had of seeing her go. If she did leave instructions to take down her profile (which I suspect not), they have not yet been satisfied.
Even while I’ve hit the little x when my poor mom-in-law’s profile box appeared – a bizarrely final thing to do anyway – her name and photo still show up each time I search on fb for a name starting with the same first few letters as hers (I simply cannot bring myself to delete another good friend’s contact info from any of my lists, even though she’s been gone for four years now).
One of the people interviewed today on CBC says that facebook is just starting to tackle this issue, having dealt with requests to take down pages from people not even related to someone…or of people still very much alive. It’s sad.
And, it’s become rather insidious, as noted by this site, appropriately titled Death and Digital Legacy. A more well-known example mentioned on that site is of Janna Moore Morin, who died violently and unexpectedly, but whose facebook profile has taken on its own momentum in the two years since her death.
Some think that the directing of all these data toward us – whether we’ve asked for them or not – is a part of a larger, more sinister movement to hyper-market to us by using info about us gotten from our digital footpath, and feeding us only the information related to those preferences – and of course, to the products that can help us further feed the image of ourselves we’ve put out there. The Daily You by Joe Turow explores this more closely, and Professor Turow blogs about these issues regularly on Media Today and Tomorrow.
Would you want to share every part of your digital legacy?
Getting back to the more general issue of the digital footprint, another point made this morning was about including it as a line item in our long-term plan. Aside your will, insurance papers and other instructions in your emergency plan, we’re being advised to ensure we have a list of all of our online accounts and their entry passwords, which we give to our partner or someone else we trust…just in case.
But what if there are accounts we only use for the stuff we don’t ever want people to know? (Course, you might argue quite rightly, as many have done, that you should never exchange anything online that you wouldn’t want shared.) And after you’re gone, well, it’s really all quite moot anyway, right?
But what if, by sharing that info with your partner, you’re leaving yourself open to that trusted person using that information, er, before they need to? Then, if you do have some things to hide, you could be discovered while you’re still here to have to deal with the fallout?
These couple examples are likely just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Once you engage with something that is capable of transmitting every one of your deets across the planet and back, these things are now part of your baggage, whether you like it or not.
Still not sure you should be worried? Click the video on the right side of the Death and Digital Legacy site. Follow Digital Nick and his exploits, which only magnify in interest…only problem is, the real Nick has died.