The problem of what to do with digital legacies is only now being addressed as the dilemma of who owns digital assets becomes an issue affecting millions.
Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, blogs and website pages that endure long after their creator has passed away. Eerie? Strange? A regular blogger suddenly stops, leaving a silence in cyberspace that is noticed by his or her followers. Puzzlement for a while until a relative thinks to post a death notice. Then that's it. But what happens to all the information that is out there, defining what may be an entire lifetime?
Most people write a will disposing of all their worldly goods but now, as internet users get older, there is also digital property to think about. According to the New York Times, there are about " five billion images and counting on Flickr; hundreds of thousands of YouTube videos uploaded every day; oceans of content from 20 million bloggers and 500 million Facebook members; two billion tweets a month" to be considered here. If, as the New Scientist maintains, over 250,000 Facebook users will die in the next year, then there is an issue without precedent to be addressed.
In the US, the Uniform Law Commission is looking into the rights of trustees when it comes to accessing digital property after death and where there has been some legislation, maintain Morrison's Solicitors in Surrey, such as in Connecticut, this is already inadequate and outdated as there is no accounting for blogs, social media accounts, online bank accounts and the list goes on.
Until now, it is the policy of the relevant online provider that mostly holds sway. Twitter and Facebook, for example, delete the account of someone who has died after receiving a copy of a death certificate. A Facebook account in the meantime can be memorialized, where the account is accessible only to friends, who can leave comments on the wall in tribute.
In a report in Metro, Sarah Needham, a data protection lawyer, said ‘Control what is publicly available online during your lifetime – don’t wait for your executors or anyone else to sort your public profile out after death'. She goes on to state that digital assets may be exploited if controls were not put in place.
The Telegraph warns of digital grave robbers, who peruse obituaries for those containing sufficient information to enable them to steal and exploit digital identities.