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    I read this interesting piece in today’s ‘The Age’ newspaper, thought I’d share. Considering how much of our interaction is on the net, it is pertinent.

    The last log-off: death on the net

        * Claudine Beaumont
        * April 25, 2009

    IN THE days before technology, death was a relatively simple affair: the belongings of the deceased could be sorted through and boxed up, divided among friends and family to act as a permanent and tangible reminder of a life.

    In the digital age, though, things are not so easy. As well as the physical belongings, there is a cyber-existence to take care of: Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts, online photo libraries, personal documents. Sites such as MySpace and Facebook are littered with profiles of people who are no longer with us. There is something unbearably poignant and mildly discomforting about this. Here are their last photos, thoughts and messages, held forever in a sort of perpetual suspended animation. What happens to these when someone dies?

    Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, always alive to the next big thing, may have found a solution. A website called Legacy Locker was recently launched in the US. It not only provides storage space for wills, farewell letters and other such papers, but also a master list of user names and programs for online bank accounts, social networking sites and document repositories.

    Subscribers create a list of their online profiles and passwords, be it the log-in details for their computer, banking service or even their iTunes account, and nominate a “beneficiary” to receive this information in the event of their demise.

    It means that their Facebook profile, email address or Twitter account can be disabled after they die, and that nominated relatives can assume ownership of their digital ephemera. The company even plans to add a video message option, allowing users to record a message that can be viewed after their passing.

    While it may sound macabre, there’s a necessity for this kind of service — most online sites don’t have practical provisions in place for passing accounts on to relatives following a death, and often even instructions in a will are not enough.

    “We see Legacy Locker filling a serious unmet need in the modern digital lifestyle,” says Jeremy Toeman, the site’s founder. “It’s not fun to think about, but the reality is that most web-based companies have no provision for managing your account in the event of your passing.

    “Further, when I think of the assets we create online these days, like Flickr, my multiple email addresses and my PayPal account, they have real, significant value to me and to my family.”

    Toeman says Legacy Locker offers a secure, legally binding service. Users will, for instance, have to nominate two “verifiers” — friends, family or a solicitor — to confirm they have died, and present a death certificate, before any of the information is released.

    He also says Legacy Locker itself will continue to live on, in the event of its demise (especially timely, given the perilous global financial climate). While he won’t be drawn on the precise plans, Toeman says Legacy Locker is well funded, with the means to continue providing a service from beyond the digital grave.

    Graham Jones, an internet psychologist, says that since the advent of photography and home movies, we’ve grown used to loved ones “living on” after death, but that our burgeoning cyber-existence poses additional issues. “Although some people will doubtless want their Facebook or Twitter accounts to live on after they’ve died, perhaps as a sort of testament to their life, it would be very unsettling for loved ones to continue receiving tweets or messages to those accounts as if the person were still alive,” he says.

    “It’s heartening that technology companies are developing services that give families a choice. The practicalities of dealing with death can be stressful at the best of times, and these services will at least remove the trauma of having to contact hundreds of websites individually asking them to delete profiles.”

    Legacy Locker is not the only internet start-up to identify a gap in the market. Several similar services already exist, including KeepYouSafe and Deathswitch. Deathswitch’s motto is “bridging mortality”. “A deathswitch is an automated system that prompts you for your password on a regular schedule to make sure you’re still alive,” the company website cheerily reads. “When you do not enter your password for some period of time, the system will prompt you again. With no reply, the computer deduces you are dead or critically disabled, and your pre-scripted messages are automatically emailed to those named by you.”

    The ability to keep control of your digital footprint will appeal to many people. After all, it gives you the opportunity to exorcise those unflattering Facebook photos or mundane tweets, and instead leave an online legacy of witty blog posts, wry observations and thought-provoking commentary. Then, there’s the practical aspect of passing on your PayPal pennies to a loved one, or even bequeathing your iTunes gift vouchers. “Of course, you’ll never truly erase a person’s digital footprint,” warns Jones. “You won’t, for instance, be able to delete a comment they left on a blog, say. But that’s something people will have to come to terms with.”


    I’ve always wondered what would happen to my online accounts/pages. I have not signed up for the things mentioned in the article but it is nice to know that they have things like that out there. At least I think so. Very interesting article indeed.

    Magdelene Nashira

    In the case of a bank, they would certainly be aware of a death because they would be involved in all the legal stuff.  So I’m sure they must have their processes.

    As far as the other stuff, if you read most user agreements they usually state a time of two years or so as a length of time after which if you do not check in or access it in some way then it automatically deletes.  Maybe not everyone has those policies, but I’m wondering if it is really as big of a problem as the article would say.

    I suppose if someone wanted their site to continue after their death they could put it in their will to have someone continue it for them.  I don’t know how that would work.


    It does make you think – what happened if one of us dropped dead? Who would know to let everyone else know that we’d passed on?


    Well, I think my husband would let people know, in my case.

    Magdelene Nashira

    Well, people come and go from the Jedi world all the time, so I don’t know that anybody would know.  But you get used to people leaving after a while.  Most people usually post when they are going to quit hanging around, but that isn’t always the case.  Every once in a while someone will return who I haven’t see post in a long time or I will run into someone on another site.  I’ve just kind of gotten used to not forming close attachments with the people here because there really isn’t a way to do that, and you don’t know how long they will be around.


    I’m sure people would know in my case. There would be a great disturbance in the force. That and a large number of Jedi in my cell phone. I am fortunate enough to have built lasting friendships with several in the Jedi community. I keep in contact with people online and offline. Several have stayed over at my apartment or I in theirs. So there is a way to form close attachments. It’s more a matter of if you are willing to make yourself available to others and how far.


    yeah, I am definitely close to a few people online and would expect the word to be passed in some way.  Though, there is a good point about passwords and such to access things like facebook and my email.  Something to think about.

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