What Happens to Your Data When You Die?
Death is a morbid topic most of us try to avoid. Making a will and saying we prefer cremation is the extent of our advance planning. Yet, you may want to also think about what’s going to happen to your data.
Consider your digital footprint. You have photos, files, and emails on your computer and your phone. You’re also documenting your life on social media, and sharing on more than one channel.
Your wearable technology (say an Apple Watch or a Fitbit) may be recording information too. If you have a virtual assistant in your home, it’s recording your search history and saving that data on the cloud.
Yet many of us never think “what will happen to my data after I die?” Do you want it deleted? Are there digital assets you want to share? Perhaps there is tangible value attached to some of your digital assets. At the very least, some photos and videos that may have sentimental value for those who survive you. So, let’s explore advance planning you can do to protect your digital legacy.
Personal Files on Computer or Phone
Your personal devices are password protected. While necessary, this makes it more difficult for your survivors.
Now, they could physically pull the computer or phone apart if needed. But, it’s easier to have a copy of your passwords in a secure place for someone to access in the event of your death. Another option is to use a password manager. You can designate someone as your backup contact. They will be able to gain access to your passwords should you die.
Digital Media Collections
Often, when you click the “Buy” button, you’re not really purchasing that movie or music forever. Your contract with iTunes, for instance, was only for your lifetime. Your rights expire at your death.
Consider the personal and private data you have in the cloud, such as Google or Microsoft’s Outlook. This might include calendars, emails, GPS, documents and financial information.
Google’s Inactive Account Manager lets you make plans for your account. You decide:
- When Google should consider your account inactive
- What it should do with your data afterwards
- Whether to share account access with someone (providing email and phone number)
- When or if your account should be deleted.
Microsoft won’t provide your passwords after death. However, via their Next of Kin process someone could be sent a DVD of the data in your outlook.com account.
Other cloud providers ask for proof of death and of legal right to access. In Dropbox’s case for instance, your survivors will need a court order. Even with all this, there’s no guarantee your personal data is completely removed from the cloud. It may exist in other data sets in system backups.
Social Media Accounts
Social media companies do not provide login credentials. Many require proof of identity and a death certificate to deactivate the account. Facebook and Instagram will “memorialize” your accounts. The public can’t see, but Friends or Followers can still view it and post memories. You can assign a legacy contact to look after the account or have it deleted.
You don’t want someone using your social account to send out spam or inappropriate photos. For instance, a sexy spam bot took over a New York Times media columnist’s Twitter after his 2015 death.
Plan ahead to protect your privacy and provide access where necessary. Think of the pain and heartache you can save your survivors by managing your digital legacy now.
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