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Have you ever considered what will happen to all your online data when you pass away? It’s an important question to consider these days given the huge amount of information that many of us keep in email and Dropbox accounts, on social media and even on our own blogs and websites.
Where once we kept physical boxes full of love letters, slightly out-of-focus holiday snaps (no delete option available on film!), and compilation cassettes of our favourite songs, much of this is now stored digitally in emails or on social media and streaming sites. In the 21st century our loved ones will not only have to trawl through all the physical paraphernalia that we leave behind but will also have to deal with our ever-increasing digital footprint with all those selfies, photos of lunch and updates on how far we’ve run on any given day. Unlucky!
This is not a simple task – not least because it is very difficult for lawmakers to keep up with the pace of technological developments and there are many grey areas over our digital rights but there are some things you can do to attempt to protect yours if you should pass away:
Terms of service agreements from many social media sites expressly forbid anyone to access an account which doesn’t belong to them, even if passwords have been freely given, and doing so could lead to accusations of cybercrime. Change is coming though as these sites get to grips with the issues involved.
For example, Facebook recently took steps to deal with this subject by enabling users to nominate what they call a legacy contact who will be able to look after their account when they die. Until July 2015 Facebook accounts were frozen and memorialised on death. Now your legacy contact will be able to add friends and post messages although they will not be able to change any previous posts.
To nominate someone on your account click on the drop-down arrow at the top right of your Facebook profile, select settings then click on the security option, select Legacy Contact and choose a friend or relative. It’s as simple as that but could save a lot of anguish as those who have [fought for access to the online accounts of deceased loved ones]V will testify.
Keep an eye out on techie websites about similar changes to other social media platforms such as Twitter, Google Plus and Instagram.
Privacy is a big issue here. While you may be happy for someone to see all the selfies you post publicly on Facebook, you may be less comfortable with them seeing the private ones you sent to your partner! Whereas in days gone by we probably threw away much of our communication, we are less likely to filter our digital footprint as it no longer requires an entire dedicated junk room in our house to store it! As a result we have reams of personal information stored indefinitely in the ether. Which begs the question of just how much privacy the deceased should be granted.
The US is leading the way in attempting to deal with digital rights within the law. It recently passed the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act which aims to give the executor of a will access to an individual’s digital assets after their death. While this is not yet law, it does demonstrate that progress is being made. If the act does become law it will override the terms of service agreements of individual social media platforms.
For now the most advisable course of action is to state what you would like to happen to your digital, as well as your physical, assets in your will. It is by no means certain that your wishes will be adhered to but while lawyers get to grips with the issues, it is the best you can do. Oh, and perhaps delete anything that you REALLY don’t want your loved ones to clock!
To make life easier for the loved ones you leave behind, it is essential that you make a comprehensive list of all your physical and digital assets along with log ins and passwords. Infinity has made this job easier for you by putting together a free, downloadable document which compiles all the information someone dealing with your estate will need including bank accounts, credit cards, pension information, investments and also your digital data and online accounts. It is well worth taking the time to download this, fill it in and pass a copy on to a family member or trusted friend.
When storing sensitive information it is vital that you take action to safeguard and protect the contents.
If you complete and store information digitally please secure it with encryption and ensure other copies are deleted completely from your hard drive. Use a flash drive or disc to lodge a digital copy with a solicitor or other professional used to handling sensitive information.
If you are in any doubt about the security of digital data, print a copy of the blank form and complete it by hand. The completed form should always be securely stored and locked in a safe environment or lodged with your legal representative.