Post-Mortem Data Issues: What Happens to Your Data When You Die?
If you die today, what would happen to your data? Read on.
Most social media platforms allow you to close down the deceased person’s account, but whether the data it holds disappears or not is still an open question. Data collection is usually defined in terms and conditions agreements. When you are still alive, you can opt out of the service by canceling your agreement or even by trying to challenge it. When you die, however, you can no longer do this. The corporations continue owning your data and can even pass it to third parties. This is what usually happens to your data when you die.
For example, Google has no mechanisms to determine that specific data belongs to a deceased person. They can keep such data for an unspecified period of time. Even if someone asked Google to delete it, it might still exist on their backup servers. The same goes for other social media platforms. Issues also arise with the data you purchase. Here again, the legal system has failed to catch up with technological advancements, which creates a gray area when it comes to post-mortem data. It’s not easy to transfer ownership of things you don’t own. Even if you legally download data created by somebody, you don’t technically own it — you just have the license to use it. This license expires when you die, so your relatives can no longer claim ownership.
How to avoid post-mortem data issues?
You should prepare for the handling of your post-mortem data in advance. Otherwise, corporations will keep your data as their property and your significant others will have a hard time retrieving it. In 2020, for example, a man in the US had to battle Apple for months just to retrieve his murdered wife’s family photos.
Take these steps to avoid confrontations later on:
- Use Google’s Inactive Account Manager. It notifies someone if your account has been inactive for a certain period of time.
- Include the digital property in your will and appoint a digital executor who will ensure that your will is fulfilled. Read on to find out what data falls under the definition of “digital property”.
- Leave your passwords to the people you trust so they can close down your accounts or retrieve precious data. But do not write them down in your will, as they might become publicly visible.
- Think carefully about everything before you share and entrust your data to digital platforms.
- Appoint a “legacy contact” on Facebook. This way, you will determine who can manage your account after your death.