Do you own a portable phone? tablet? computer? Who do you/would you trust with the passwords, pins, puks, for the physical machines?

Do you know how many online accounts do you have?  Who do you/would you trust with the passwords, security questions’ answers, login names?

mobile phone and coffeeIf you were to die, what would happen to your digital legacy? Consider your e-commerce and banking  accounts, stored value accounts (Bitcoin wallet, PayPal),  social media, email, cloud-backup and gaming accounts, accounts containing your intellectual property (writing, coding, digital art, etc), accounts holding virtual goods of real or sentimental value (family history, genealogy, land records, etc, and accounts or programs containing your health information. Then consider the contents of your computer, phone, tablet, etc., and the machines themselves: How do you access them? Fingerprint recognition?  Facial or eye recognition? Passwords and security questions?  What about file encryption? How would someone access and take care of all this at your request after your death?

It is very common to hire or appoint an executor,  solicitor, notary or lawyer to oversee the disposition of our material goods after our death. If you are an adult, you have probably made a will in order to help your family and friends sort out the paperwork after you (eventually, someday) die. If you have minor children, you will want to leave instructions as to how they will be cared for should you no longer be there.  An interesting list of reasons for writing a will can be found at this link. It is more than likely that you need to hire or appoint someone do to the same for your digital “goods”, or explicitly outline your wishes for the disposition of the digital side of your life in your “regular” will.

In an article on The ConversationRachel Connor writes, ‘In our already busy lives, does tending to our online existence give us one more thing to do? Perhaps so. But it’s about taking responsibility for our own stuff. If we don’t make the decisions about what to keep or discard—whether actual or online—then ultimately others will need to. And if we don’t leave clear directions about where to find our digital content, it makes things tougher for everyone.’ (link)

The BBC Radio 4 program ‘We need to talk about death’ episode My Digital legacy  is a good introduction to this idea: ‘As we spend an ever increasing amount of time online, much of our lives, both professional and personal, have found their way onto the digital sphere. So what happens to it all when we die? Should we view our digital assets much like our physical possessions? And, if so, how should we manage our digital legacies?’

Most people think of death as something that comes after ‘old age’. Not something you need to think about right now. But what if…no matter how old you are,  you have an very serious accident? You die suddenly of an unsuspected illness or condition?  Who will be able to access your digital devices and accounts, in order to reset the devices,  delete the accounts (or memorialize them) download the contents (photos, music, writing, etc.) and realize any monetary value that may be involved.

This video raises some of the issues involved:

This book advertisement summarizes the considerations:

This video from the Berkeley School of Information is 5 years old (2013), an hour long, and US-oriented in the discussion of legalities, but the issues raised by the speakers help us extend our understanding of what happens to our data when we die, and to consider how we want to manage it. (A transcript of Stephen Wu’s talk is at this link).

On The Next Advisor blog, Michael Osakwe writes that “Preparing for (death) is important for both your family’s financial health as well as your personal legacy. While Facebook or Twitter are likely to be the last things on your mind if you’re terminally ill or seriously injured, these online accounts have far reaching implications that will last even after you’re gone. Given how much we share online, these accounts could be invaluable to friends and family, as their continued existence allows them to stay close to us after we’ve died through the various photos, videos or thoughts we’ve shared.” …”Many experts now see online accounts as a part of our “digital inheritance,” an intangible, but important, aspect of our estate that we ought to include in our wills.”  Read the rest of his article for advice about how to prepare, and what you should know about sharing your digital inheritance.

Your digital life may not, as yet, be as complicated as those described above, but you can probably organize it into the following categories, described in Sandi S. Varnado,  Your Digital Footprint Left Behind at Death: An Illustration of Technology Leaving the Law Behind, 74 La. L. Rev. (2014).

A. The Digital Items Used to Access Other Digital Items, for example e-mail accounts: Your email could be the master key to locating and accessing many other digital items. Your address book and calendar may be  tied to your email account.

B. Digital Items of Sentimental Value, for example collections and social media accounts: Collections of photographs and videos, documents, books, music, and other collections that can be stored either on a computer or through an online account.

C. Digital Items of a Financial Nature, for example accounts used to manage, spend, or earn money.

The following web sites give specific details to help you make plans your digital inheritance:

CNet In depth coverage: Logging-Out, Death in the digital age 

Your Digital Inheritance: What Happens to Your Social Media Accounts When You Die?

You’re Going To Die Someday. Who Do You Trust With All Your Passwords?

Digital Wills

Digital Life after Death – When it comes to your Will, have you thought about your Post Mortem Digital Assets?

Facebook Legacy Contact: Who Can Access Your Account When You Die?

How to Automatically Delete Your Facebook Account After You Die

Inactive Account Manager: What Happens to Your Google Accounts When You Die?

How to Close Twitter Account When User Dies

How to Delete Instagram Account When Someone Dies

Thinking about your relationship to your data and digital legacy may cause you to pay more attention to it (copyright), to who has access to it (privacy), to the image of you it  leaves on line (digital fluency, literacy, responsibility, citizenship, etc.)  All good for discussion in any IB class!