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How to plan for your digital afterlife: What happens to your data when you finally kick the bucket?

Anand Murali

Most of us today have two aspects to our lives, one in the real world and another in the digital or virtual world. The content we create, store or share in the digital world, our email accounts, cloud storage and social accounts, have become more personal and sensitive as our digital life expands. With a lot of them containing personal, financial and other private information, it is very important to take control and decide what happens to these accounts in your afterlife. Who has access to the data, owns the accounts, will your family or friends be able to access them, or will it self destruct?

Representational image.
Representational image.

Representational image.

A lot of this lies in your control and this article should help you plan your digital afterlife in case you decide to kick the bucket.

Similar to choosing a nominee for your bank accounts or life insurance, most digital services allow you to choose the person or people who will be handed over keys to your complete online life, or parts of it, after the user has deceased or the account has been inactive for a sustained period. Below is a list of common online services and how to manage these setting for them.

Google

Google calls this feature an 'Inactive Account Manager'. What the service essentially does is wait a set amount of time (3, 6, 12 or 18 months) chosen by you, after which Google will share your data with one or up to 10 people you have chosen to receive your data.

A Google logo is displayed at the entrance to the internet based company's office. Image: Reuters.
A Google logo is displayed at the entrance to the internet based company's office. Image: Reuters.

A Google logo is displayed at the entrance to the internet based company's office. Image: Reuters.

This shared data will include data from Gmail, Hangouts, YouTube, Drive, Google Photos, etc., among the many services Google offers. You can customise which person receives what data from you, if not all your data.

Once your account becomes inactive and the chosen people given access to your Google data, they have up to three months to download your data. Google also gives you the option of deleting your account, which if selected, will happen after the three-month period allowed for downloading all your data.

You can visit this link to access the Inactive Manager section of your account where you can enter details including when Google should consider your account inactive, and who you'd like to share your data with.

Now this is not the end. What if someone was not aware of this feature, had not set it up, and passed away?

In such cases, you could place a request with Google, which under certain circumstances will provide content from the deceased user's account after careful review of the request. Google will not share passwords or other login details of the deceased person, but you could request for their account to be closed, access their data or transfer funds that are there in their Google account.

Microsoft

Microsoft does not have an automated system in place that will help you transfer your account or pre-select the people who can access your data after your death or disappearance.

Microsoft logo. Representational image.
Microsoft logo. Representational image.

Microsoft logo. Representational image.

Instead, Microsoft has in place a 'Next of Kin' process that will give access to emails and their attachments, address book, and messenger contact list, to your next of kin after an authentication process.

In order to start the procedure for the contents of the email account to be shared, or to request the closure of the email account, the process will have to be initiated with 'Windows Live Custodian of Records' by sending a request to emailingmsrecord@microsoft.com. Following which, documents will have to be shared with Microsoft in order to verify the status of the account holder and the relationship of the person with the deceased requesting the data or closure of the account.

In case the request is being raised from the US, Europe or some other select regions, Microsoft must first be formally served with a valid subpoena or court order to consider whether it is able to lawfully release the information, according to Microsoft's support.

In any case, Microsoft will not provide login credentials or allow for transferring ownership of the account to the next of kin.

Facebook

Image: Facebook
Image: Facebook

Image: Facebook

Facebook, being a social media service, approaches afterlife in a slightly different fashion. As a user, you could set your account up for deletion after Facebook has been informed about your death and it has been verified. You can also set up your page to be converted into a 'Memorialised' account for friends and family to gather and share memories.

For the latter option, you will also have to choose in advance a 'legacy contact,' a person you have chosen to look after your account once it has been memorialised.

You can set this up from the Settings menu of your Facebook account under the subhead 'Memorialisation Settings'.

In case a user has not set their account with either of the above options, family or friends could request Facebook to convert their page into a memorialised account by visiting this page and submitting the required information.

In case you want to delete a deceased person's account, only a verified family member will be allowed to place that request. In either case, Facebook will not share the login credentials of the account with anyone, including verified family or friends.

You can access the entire FAQ section provided by Facebook on this here.

Instagram

Being part of the same parent company, Instagram's policies are similar to that of Facebook. After your death the account can either be memorialised once Instagram is notified, or an immediate family member can request that the account be deleted. Both requests will have to go through a verification process.

Unlike Facebook, Instagram does not have a feature to pre-select someone as your 'Legacy contact'.

Twitter

Twitter currently allows for a request to deactivate a deceased person's account. The request could be placed by a person authorised to act on behalf of the estate of a deceased person, or by a verified immediate family member. You could also submit a request via their privacy form to deactivate the account.

The service does not allow you to transfer your account after you have passed away or pre-select someone to get access to your account. Also, Twitter will not provide account access to anyone regardless of their relationship to the deceased, according to their policy document.

LinkedIn

LikedIn has in place a process to allow for the deletion of a deceased user's account. You can place a request for the same via their help section which requires you to provide details of the person making the request as well as proof of death. Only once the information and documentation have been verified will the account be removed.

Pinterest

Pinterest allows for relatives or family members to request for the deactivation of a deceased person's account. You could place a request for the same via the 'Help Center' to initiate the process, which will be done only after verification.

As in the case of most other services, Pinterest will not share any personal or login information.

Snapchat

Snapchat also allows for requesting the deletion of a user's account in the event of their passing away. You can place a request for the same via their support page and this will be done after verification of the documents submitted.

Snapchat will not provide login credentials or allow for the transfer of the account.

Apple ID

According to Apple, a user's Apple ID and the contents of their account are non-transferable. The Apple ID or account may be terminated and all its contents deleted upon submission of a request and verification of proof of death. You can visit Apple's support page to initiate a request for the same.

All the services listed above will not share the login credentials or transfer accounts to others as there is always a chance of misinformation, impersonation or other such security related issues.

Also See: Google misses analysts' estimates for Q3 2019 profits, shares tank by 1.2 percent

Snap Inc forecasts lower revenues in next quarter; Snapchat daily active users climbs to 210 million

Shane Watson apologies for 'illicit' social media posts, claims his accounts were hacked

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