What Happens to Your Digital Data When You Pass Away?

Digital Memories

Yes death is a morbid topic and most of us try and avoid talking about it. Making a will and saying we prefer cremation or burial is usually 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. The list will compromise of some if not all of the following:

  • files and data you own on your computers / servers.
  • your email accounts (business and personal).
  • social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram etc).
  • financial information contained with an accounting system.
  • files in online accounts such as Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud etc.
  • blog articles.
  • data on your phone, tablets and other portable devices (like your fitbit or digital watch).
  • security camera data.

Yet with all this data around, many of us never think “what will happen to it after I die?”. Would you like it deleted? Are there digital assets you want to share? Perhaps there is tangible value attached to some of your digital assets. Business data may need to be shared with where you work or your business partners. Other personal data such as photos and video may have sentimental value for family and friends. So let us explore what advance planning you can do to protect your digital legacy.

Personal Files on Computer or Phone

Many of you digital devices will be password protected. While necessary for security reasons, this makes it more difficult for your survivors.

Now, they could physically pull the computer or phone apart if needed. But, it is much 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 and they will be able to gain access to your passwords should you pass away.

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 and as such your rights expire at your death. Contact other providers to check what their policies are.

Cloud Accounts

Consider the personal and private data you have in the cloud, such as in your various Goggle (Gmail, Google Drive etc) or Microsoft accounts (O365, Hotmail, Live, MSN, or Outlook.com). This might include calendars, emails, GPS, documents and financial information.

Google’s Inactive Account Manager lets you make plans for your Google accounts. You can 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, they have a Next of Kin process.To start the Next of Kin process, your next of kin will need to email msrecord@microsoft.com and provide any documentation that verifies that you are dead (or otherwise incapacitated) and that they are your next of kin, the executor, benefactor of your estate or someone with your power of attorney.

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 is no guarantee your personal data is completely removed from the cloud. It may exist in other datasets or in system backups.

Social Media Accounts

Social media companies generally do not provide login credentials to accounts. Many will require proof of identity and a death certificate to deactivate the account. Facebook and Instagram will “memorialize” your accounts – this means that the public can’t see the account, but Friends or Followers can still view it and post memories. You can even assign a legacy contact to look after the account or have it deleted.

It is generally not a good idea to leave a social media account alone. There has been incidents where hackers have gotten access to deceased accounts and used them to send out spam or inappropriate photos. For instance, a sexy spambot took over a New York Times media columnist’s Twitter after his 2015 death.

While it is not an every day topic of discussion now is the time to plan ahead and 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 – also let them know what your have done and help them with theirs!

If you want help preserving your data legacy contact DP Computing on 08 8326 4364 or via email at support@dpcomputing.com.au.

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