Legacy Tips #5-9: 5 ways to make sure your digital life is not locked up online (podcast)

facebook_digital_afterlife_what_happens_when_someone_diesAway For A Bit spoke with Damien Carrick on ABC Radio National on legal and practical considerations for managing a digital afterlife and legacy.

Gaining access to an individual’s online accounts (social networking, email) after they die is often impossible, although in some cases, next of kin have fought for access via the courts. As the podcast demonstrates, they do not always win.

Here are five recommendations from the podcast to avoid your digital life from being locked up online.

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Legacy Tip #1: Plan what happens to your Facebook Data and Profile

facebook_legacy_memorialisation_friends_change_digital_afterlifeFor anyone located in the US, Facebook has introduced Legacy Contact, a set of features that allow a user to nominate a friend to manage their account, albeit in a more restricted way, after they die. A Legacy Contact is able to update profile photos or add new friends and family contacts in memory of and on behalf of their deceased friend. Importantly, a user can also indicate whether or not they’d like a copy of their Facebook data to be downloaded by their assigned contact or alternatively instruct Facebook to delete their account after their death.

For everyone else, Facebook memorialisation is an option but this process can pose issues as guest blogger Nicole Wright points out. Here are some thoughts on how to preserve your personal history and avoid it from being lost or locked into the social networking site, so you can reminisce over fond memories in years from now and also share these with your loved ones when your time comes.

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How to capture email, text and chat conversations from a screen

mobile burst applicationsRecently I wrote that when going through and organising DB’s effects after his death, I came across a printed copy of our first email conversation that he had hoarded away with other paperwork. My messages had been sent from an email account that I had forgotten about and hadn’t used for over ten years. When I decided to log into the account again to reclaim our old correspondence, I realised that the company had since been acquired twice, renamed and that my membership no longer existed. Later conversations were lost. At the time, it was heart wrenching.

So I’ve been on a mission to avoid the same situation happening again, looking into apps and services that exist to help people capture correspondence via text, chat and email.

You can get email, phone, text and chat management systems that archive and back up all correspondence (particularly useful for business or for legal purposes) but the options below are for capturing specific conversations you want to keep as memories. They are mostly straightforward and also eye catching.

Surprisingly, there seem to be relatively few options out there but here some that I’ve discovered with costs ranging from free to those sitting on the higher side of the price spectrum. If you are aware of others that you can share, please post below. I’d love to hear about them.

A heads up. These services do not work if you are trying to capture conversations with someone who has a memorialised Facebook account (what is Facebook memorialisation?). Memorialised accounts do not show up in the search functions of the services below integrating Facebook, I suspect because Facebook does not provide access. As a result, it’s not possible to download the conversations you’ve had with deceased Facebook members whose pages are memorialised, even if you’re trying to do so from your own account.

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How to limit emotional fall out when planning digital afterlife messages

There’s a plethora of digital services now available for consumers where they can share messages and information with their next of kin, friends and family after they die. For instance, Facebook based offerings such as Dead Social and If I Die allow users to share pre-recorded and approved goodbye messages to their social networks on Facebook and Twitter. Other digital estate planning services also offer the option to send final notes or messages as part of their portfolio.

While there’s no research that I’m aware of to show how this form of communication impacts the way in which we grieve, anecdotal evidence often shows that people are shocked when seeing images or reminders concerning their dead friends within social media communities.

For those considering a post-mortem social media strategy, consider your audience – the friends, family, colleagues, lovers left behind who will analysis and ponder over your messages as they come to terms with their loss.

Read more about different types of digital messaging and estate management services.

Three things to think about when planning digital afterlife messages

  • When people are grieving, everything has the potential to be a sharp reminder of a memory, thought, experience or regret about someone they will never see, hear, touch or talk with again. What is the impact to your community if you schedule a series of messages over a period of time? Are the messages comforting or are there people for whom this might be distressing? Understanding the likely reaction of your audience will help you determine how you deliver your messages and on what platform.
  • Be clear in what you want to say. Ambiguous, unconsidered messages could be misinterpreted or cause unintended responses such as hurt or confusion. There’s no opportunity for recipients to later clarify your meaning.
  • If you’re planning a series of messages on an ongoing basis, how will they relate and be relevant to the experiences your friends and family are going through?

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What are your thoughts on post-mortem message leaving? Drop your thoughts and recommendations in the comments below.

Find out how ‘messages from the beyond’ can be comforting.

Who owns your digital history in a future far, far away?

digital_data_digital_afterlife_digital_historyI’ve been speaking with a variety of researchers on the legal aspects around our digital accounts and what happens to them after we die. Often the discussion focuses on who is entitled to access a deceased person’s online account data – such as email, photos or documents – and the consensus is that it’s complicated.

Some platforms such as Google have started to allow users to nominate next of kin, family or friends to receive their personal information once their account becomes inactive. With the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act approved in the US (July 2014), we may see a system where a personal representative of a deceased person’s estate has as much right to manage the digital assets of the deceased in the same way they would their tangible assets. Currently ownership of digital assets often remain with online services such as Facebook and Yahoo unless contested through the legal system by a next of kin.

While laws are catching up with digital and social technologies, Damian McCallig, a PhD candidate from the School of Law at National University of Ireland in Galway is curious to know what will happen to our data a generation or more after we die.

As he points out, current copyright laws in countries like the UK and Australia allow someone’s personal information to become available in the public domain several years after that individual has died. Records around births, deaths and marriages are accessible by researchers or family members interested in their genealogy or a previous generation’s history. Unpublished works such as diaries or letters can be published without the permission of their estate, as long as a certain period of time has passed since the author died. In the UK, this is seventy years, although there are specific exemptions.

“Currently a lot of today’s information that is relevant for the researchers and historians of the future is behind walls and owned by companies,” says McCallig. “For instance, Barack Obama has a Twitter account which will hold public tweets but also private messages which are gated. This information will be relevant from a historical and research point of view. Previously these kinds of notes would have become available after a set period of time. What copyright laws apply to this digital data managed by private organisations?”

McCallig believes that Facebook would have been alerted to the opportunity around its memorialised accounts (what is Facebook memorialisation?) when a father campaigned for a ‘look back’ video to be made for his son who died in 2012, attracting widespread support. He wonders if Facebook is assessing the commercial potential for its deceased accounts in the long term. Facebook’s main revenue stream comes from advertising, based on driving eyeballs to ad creative and sponsored posts. Memorialised Facebook accounts offer no value to marketers or monetisation options for the company in its current model.

While he’s not certain on how Facebook would commercialise these accounts, likely scenarios could include charging researchers, educational institutions, public information bodies and even individuals for access to archival information.

“Facebook is able to provide insights on how communities reacted to news and events within specific contexts or a particular point in time. It can detail emotional responses as well as online behaviour across timelines and networks,” says McCallig. “That’s of tremendous value to future historians.”

If this is the case, should these historical insights and archives be available freely to the public or remain in the hands of commercial companies? And if Facebook fails to survive, should there be a contingency plan to protect and share our histories with future generations?

What do you think?

Read more about Damian McCallig’s perspectives on Digital Remains or connect with him on Twitter.

 

 

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