RIP in Cyberspace- Business News
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RIP in Cyberspace

Should we let our digital footprints disappear, gather dust or stay alive when we are no more? Opinions vary, and so do rules. 

  • NA,  September 6, 2017  
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RIP in Cyberspace
RIP in Cyberspace

We are facing a data deluge that is worse than Hurricane Harvey. Some say about 90 per cent of the world data today has been created over the past couple of years. And we, as individuals, have contributed handsomely if our fiercely buzzing social media accounts are anything to go by. They contain so much data that managing the data blast could be an intimidating task very soon. Most important, we need not retain so much information, especially not after we die. Social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google have strict policies in place and almost always delete the accounts of the deceased. But new concepts are coming up every day that would not let go of the 'dead' data. And the consequences? According to a 2016 study, the deceased on Facebook will surpass the living in 2098 if every Facebook user who dies is memorialised.


Data Control on Social Media

  • Facebook/Instagram: Facebook gives its users two options. You can either delete the account permanently or memorialise it. To delete the account, someone must inform the Facebook team that the account holder is no more (see graphic Social Media Deletion). Otherwise, you can choose a legacy contact, aged at least 18, who will manage the account after your death. A legacy contact can write a final message on your Facebook wall (if your settings allow it), respond to new friend requests, and update your profile picture and cover photo. This contact may also request Facebook to delete your account. If the legacy contact wants to maintain your account, the word 'Remembering' is added next to your name. Just like Facebook, Instagram accounts can either be memorialised or deleted by a family member/friend after the user dies.
  • Twitter and Pinterest: A person authorised to act on behalf of the estate or an immediate family member can request Twitter to remove the account when the user dies. The person must fill in a form, giving all details such as the full name of the account holder, his/her Twitter handle, and the informant's full name and relation with the deceased. Next, Twitter will send an e-mail with instructions and more documents (user's death certificate and the informant's ID) must be submitted by way of validation. After confirmation, Twitter will delete the account. Pinterest, a popular visual discovery network, does the same as Twitter. When a friend or family member notifies the death and submits all necessary documents, the account of the deceased gets deleted.
  • LinkedIn: A family member or a friend can request LinkedIn to remove a user's account after his/her death. This person must fill in all relevant details - the member's name, LinkedIn profile link, date of death, last company worked for and links to the obituary. After verification, the account of the deceased member will be deleted.
  • Google: Google enables you to plan what happens to your data when you are not around. At first, it asks you to fix a time frame post which your account will be considered as inactive. You may choose a waiting period of 3/6/12/18 months. If you want to delete your account after death, the deletion will be done three months after it becomes inactive.

Google allows you to choose up to 10 people (trustees) with whom you can share some or all the data that you leave behind in cyberspace. You must provide their e-mail IDs and phone numbers, and also specify what kind of data you are willing to share with each trustee. When your account becomes inactive, Google will automatically notify your trustees and provide them access to your data as specified. The data can be downloaded within three months of account deactivation.


The Flip Side

The above efforts to contain data are laudable, but there is another side of the story, leading to a rapid rise in the online data flow. To start with, there are sites like SecureSafe.com or everplans.com that will help you save online account details along with their passwords. The key objective of these businesses is to keep your social media accounts safe throughout your life and then pass it on to your friends and family as per your wish.

Creating memorial pages/sites is popular overseas but it is a relatively new concept in India. Shradhanjali.com is an Indian platform that does it while there are sites like Eternime that create digital avatars using artificial intelligence.DeadSocial, an online service helping people build their digital legacy, is doing it differently. The way it operates seems slightly creepy as it continues to publish your 'new' posts even years after your death. In reality, all it requires is writing and scheduling those messages while you are alive and an executor, whom you have assigned, will carry out your instructions after you pass away.

Keep It Simple

Ankita Gaba, Partner and Business Head at digital agency iGenero, asks people to keep things simple when it comes to creating an effective digital afterlife. "When a person dies, no social media platform allows access to the deceased's private data. Most social sites will either memorialise or delete those accounts when they are notified. Although digital lockers are safe for keeping your data secure, you do not need them," she says.

If you still want to hand over your digital legacy, share your login details while you are still alive or make a mention in your will, Gaba advises.

Jatin S. Popat, Director at Willjini.com, a succession services provider, concurs. "One should cover it in a will so that all vital information, pictures, videos, blogs, music and the likes, can be inherited by the legal heirs. There is no need for a separate digital will."