Will they be lost in oblivion in this digital universe? Or will they be passed on to your family and your heirs will have access to your online lives?
Most online platforms and websites have vague digital afterlife policies and it is not clear what will happen to your account once you die. Your family or close friends who might want to access your accounts may not be able to do so before going through tedious document submissions and in some cases, even legal counsel.
Facebook, for example, gives an option to memorialize a deceased person’s profile once they receive intimation of death of a user. Memorializing an account removes certain sensitive information and sets privacy so that only confirmed friends can see the profile. A family member or friend has to fill out a brief form and provide proof of death of the user like an obituary or news article.
In the event of the death of a Twitter user, they close the account and help family members recover public Tweets from the account after they provide them with the following:
1. First and last name, contact information (including email address), and relationship to the deceased person.
2. The username of the Twitter account, or a link to the account’s public profile page.
3. A link to a public obituary article.
You may contact Twitter at firstname.lastname@example.org They may not hand over access to the account, or share any non public information related to the account. Here’s Twitter’s deceased user policy page
MySpace deceased user policy states that if you are the next of kin, they will not grant you access to edit, or delete any of the content or settings on the account yourself. You can email email@example.com and attach appropriate documentation such as a death certificate of the deceased user, their MySpace ID and request them to either preserve, remove content or delete the account altogether.
Gmail’s policy for accessing a deceased user’s account is a lengthy two-part process. First, you need to send them the following information:
1. Your full name
2. Your physical mailing address
3. Your email address
4. A photocopy of your government-issued ID or driver’s license
5. The Gmail address of the deceased user
6. The death certificate of the deceased user.
7. The following information from an email message that you have received at your email address, from the Gmail address in question:
o The full header from the email message. Copy everything from ‘Delivered-To:’ through the ‘References:’ line
o The entire content of the message
You will need to mail or fax this information to Google at:
Gmail User Support – Decedents’ Accounts
c/o Google Custodian of Records
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043
The second part involves a review of your request by Google and if approved, you will be required to get additional legal process including an order from a U.S. court and/or submitting additional materials. Even after all this it is not guaranteed that you will be given access to the deceased user’s account. Here’s Gmail’s policy page.
Hotmail requires you to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org requesting that they preserve the email content for a specified deceased user account while you gather the necessary paperwork they ask for so you may gain access to the account. They preserve it for 6 months, after which they delete the account. To gain access you need to provide Hotmail with the following:
1. An e-mail address that can be used to contact you in case of questions
2. A shipping address to ship the data to
3. A document that states that you are the benefactor or the executor to the deceased’s estate and/or that you have power of attorney for an incapacitated customer and/or are next of kin
4. A photocopy of your driver’s license or other government- issued identification
5. A photocopy of the death certificate
6. Account name
7. First and last name of the person who owns the account
8. Date of birth
9. City, state, and ZIP Code/Postal Code
10. The approximate date of account creation
11. The approximate date of last sign in
Here’s more information on Hotmail’s policy.
Yahoo has a much stricter deceased user policy. No one can gain access to your account once you die as Yahoo will not grant permission to anyone to access a deceased user’s account. You can only request them to delete a dead user’s account.
Of course, if you plan your digital afterlife a you may save your family from a lot of painful hassle after your death. One such website, World Without Me has various tools like Vault, which lets you create assets of all your digital information like login credentials and other sensitive documents in one safe and secure place and pass it on directly to your loved ones without any middlemen or legal hassles. You can also choose who will receive what just like in a Will. You may use the Trigger tool to set up who will declare your demise, and when your digital inheritance will be set in motion.