It might not even occur to most of the population while they upload their precious moments and stories online, that they are leaving significant data footprints behind. As ghoulish and pessimistic as this thought may sound, these footprints include important photos, videos, messages, passwords, account information etc. They continue to stay even after a person dies. Digital afterlife is a new-age phenomenon of recognizing these data footprints and maintain data security after user’s death.
There’s a risk of losing out on all the data of the deceased by some hacker or spambot. Since people depend on the Internet for banking, shopping, business, filing taxes etc; data has become very sensitive and is prone to theft. Hence, many data and other companies are investing in the Digital Afterlife industry.
Data And Its Legacy
Data afterlife includes an important segment called the Digital legacy. All the digital information that one store on the net and which can be retrieved after one’s death is called Digital legacy. In the UK, there’s a professional body called the Digital Legacy Association (DLA) which commits to ensuring safety by supporting the general public and developing standards for digital assets and legacy. In the US, there’s a provision in the law which gives digital assets access to Fiduciaries. The “Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act” gives a person (trustee or agent) authority to manage one’s digital property like computer files, web domains, virtual currency, etc but restricts fiduciary’s access to personal emails and texts and social media accounts.
In India, there’s no such law or provision to prevent one’s digital legacy from being damaged. But many people are opting to include Digital Will in their Last Will and Testament. This Will is governed by the Indian Succession Act, whoever is mentioned in the digital Will gets access to the deceased’s digital footprints and also bank account information. The Will is not as robust as it is still illegal to use a dead person’s bank account and is primarily used to access healthcare information and computer files.
What Are The Tech-Giants Doing
Companies like Google and Facebook take the digital afterlife industry seriously. Most of the people depend on these two applications for their personal and business data storage. These companies have set guidelines, under which user data won’t be compromised after death.
Facebook has features like Legacy Contact and Memorialisation. After a person dies, his/her account can either be permanently deleted or can be distinguished by making it a memorialised account, so that family and friends can remember and share memories about the deceased. Due to memorialisation, people can save their accounts from being hampered by external sources after their death. They can choose a family member or friend under Legacy Contact; this person after producing a death certificate, can either delete the account or can venture into Memorialisation and share things like “last words” etc.
Google has a policy of inactive account manager nicknamed as Google death, this is a way for users to provide parts of their data or notify someone if they have been inactive for a long period of time. Google detects the activity of all its users and uses this policy to notify either the user or his nominee about deleting the account. Under this policy, the nominee can get access to the deceased’s account information after verifying contact details and producing documents.
The Inception Of Digital Afterlife
Digital afterlife is no longer a neo-world concept, it has turned into a full-fledged industry now. There are several startups investing in this industry. Companies like Last Words, created by Benjamin Lim is an application available on Play store. This application helps users create a profile where they can add their personal photographs, media, files and “last words” for their loved ones and release it when their time comes. The data on this app is stored locally and can be accessed only upon activation.
Since most of the people don’t save their other account information, bank details and healthcare information on Facebook and other social media; there’s an increase in demand for companies which can cater to the needs of the people, to secure their important information after they die.
My Digital Afterlife (MDA) is another such platform to store valuable information like account passwords and private documents which can be retrieved after a person’s death. This data is stored on the drive and can be transported by the nominated person upon showing “proof of death”. These apps are not just password managers but also help in securing the digital footprints of a person.
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Jignasa pursued her bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology and is currently a trainee journalist at IIJNM. Her mind is usually preoccupied with art, music, food and travel.