For as long as the human race has existed, we’ve been (perhaps understandably) more than a little concerned about what happens when we die. Past civilizations envisioned everything from chilly limbos to lush gardens of delight, but modern humans have a problem the ancients never needed to consider: what becomes of our online selves when we die?
It’s a question that’s growing more and more pressing with every passing year. On Facebook alone, more than 30 million accounts now belong to the dead, and with an average of three Facebookers dying every single minute, the ranks of the dead continue to swell. Facebook’s given next of kin the ability to review and delete accounts of lost loved ones, but since they also provide an option to convert the profiles of those who have passed on into “memorial pages,” it’s small wonder that some folks project Facebook will have more dead users than live ones by the middle of the twenty-first century.
Facebook’s not the only component to a person’s digital afterlife, of course. It’s small beer compared to the email accounts, Instagram snapshots, Youtube videos, and all those pithy, poignant tweets that will linger on indefinitely without the proper authorization for removal. And that’s downright generous compared to some sites such as Yahoo!, whose accounts aren’t transferable. The company owns the account and everything in it when the holder shuffles off their mortal coil. The best the owner’s loved ones can do is request the account be closed.
Not everyone wants to see their online self vanish after death, however. Some digital afterlife services allow users to save key files, passwords, and special instructions for their loved ones and pass them along once they’re gone. For those more concerned with immortality of another kind, LifeNaut gives its clients the ability to upload a sample of their DNA to create the ultimate personal backup file.
Preparing for the afterlife is something we all have to face. But as technology advances and more and more of this is spent online, it may soon come to pass that the window into the great beyond will be just a click away.
Preparing for Your Digital Afterlife
Much of our lives are now spent online, and as in the physical world, we leave traces everywhere, from emails to shared photos; product reviews; Tweets and Facebook status updates. But what happens to all of this after we die? Can we live on forever? Would we want to?
- 30 million + – accounts on Facebook that belong to dead people
- 2060 – 2130 – approximate point at which there will be more dead people on Facebook than live ones
- 3 – Facebook users die every minute.
- 70% – of UK 65-74 year-olds are active online.
Death in the Digital Age
Different companies have different policies for dealing with deceased users.
Twitter doesn’t provide account access to anyone, regardless of the relationship to the deceased.
Instead, they allow an authorized person to deactivate the account.
- Death certificate of deceased user
- Your government issued ID
- Your relationship to the deceased user
- Evidence that account belongs to the deceased if name on account and certificate does not match.
- Links to a public obituary that provides proof of death
Facebook gives friends and family the option to memorialize a deceased person’s profile or permanently delete it.
- Proof of death
- Link to timeline and email address of deceased user
- To access a person’s content, Facebook requires a court order and will or durable power of attorney sent via mail
The executor of the estate must fax to PayPal:
- Cover sheet stating account holder is deceased and account needs to be closed.
- Death certificate of account holder.
- Legal documentation or copy of the will that identifies the executor of the estate.
- Government-issued photo ID of the executor.
- Letter that specifies what to do with any money that remains in the account.
Google does not guarantee they will grant access to a deceased user’s account, but recommends mailing them:
- Your full name
- Physical mailing address
- Government issued ID
- Gmail address of decreased
- Death certificate of deceased
Yahoo! accounts are non-transferrable. Rights to your account and content terminate upon death.
Microsoft allows for release of Outlook.com content to the next of kin, including emails, attachments and address books.
Accessing content requires:
- Death certificate of deceased
- Document showing next of kin or executor of estate
- Photocopy of government issued ID
- Email address of account
- Account details: date of birth and city of residence given when account created
How to Live Forever, Online
“Today, you get a shoe box full of pictures, tomorrow you will get a Flickr account. Today, you get a diary; tomorrow you will get a blog.”
– Jeremy Toeman, CEO and Founder, Legacy Locker
Here is just a sampling of some of the many services currently available that help you plan for digital death and afterlife:
- AssetLock: A digital safety deposit box allowing users to upload their files, passwords, and any instructions to be released to predetermined individuals upon their death.
- Eternity Message: Will send pre-written emails to loved ones (or enemies) at agreed intervals after your death.
- Legacy Organiser: An iPhone app that allows users to record their preferences for their funeral, such as music, photographs and messages.
- LifeNaut: Service allowing you to upload a DNA sample so your mind and genetic code are backed-up.
- The Voice Library: Lets people record, save and share the sound of their own voice.
The Current State of Death
47% of adults access social media websites.
20% have considered what happens to their online profiles after death
16% of people prefer they remain online and available for comments
43% of people would like their accounts closed down
20% of people would like them to remain online but closed to comments
20% of people are unsure
Worried about what people may find after you’re gone?
Delete your online presence in advance.
Prefer to keep the notion of death not at the forefront of your mind?
At the very least, record your usernames and passwords for sites your frequently use, and discuss with a trusted person what you want done with them.
Death is something that comes to us all, and most of us luckily have the time to prepare for it.
If you’re at all active online, perhaps it’s time you gave it some thought.
- Death in the Digital Age: Are You Prepared? – bbc.co.uk
- Why Is It so Hard to Claim a Dead Relative’s Facebook Profile? – dailydot.com
- Accessing a Deceased Person’s Mail – support.google.com
- What Happens Online When You Die? – lifeinsurancefinder.com.au
- Why Twitter’s New Deceased User’s Policy Isn’t Good Enough – blog.legacylocker.com
- My Family Member Died Recently/Is in Coma, What Do I Need to Access Their Microsoft Account? – answers.microsoft.com
- Help following the Death of a PayPal User – paypal-community.com
- Would You Want to Live Online Forever? – perfectchoicefunerals.com
- Contacting Twitter about a Deceased User or Media concerning a Deceased Family Member – support.twitter.com
- Over 30 Million Accounts on Facebook Belong to Dead People – technorati.com
- Facebook of the Dead – what-if.xkcd.com
- Digital Death and Afterlife Online Services List – thedigitalbeyond.com
- Yahoo! Terms of Service – info.yahoo.com