Does data ever die?

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Does anything ever really “die” online? Do we every actually lose anything in the “series of tubes” that we call the Internet, even after we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil?


My knee jerk reaction is yes, in a way. If I were to pop my clogs tomorrow then my closely guarded passwords would go with me.

It’s not really that simple though is it? That information still exists; it’s still out in the aether, patiently sitting on a server waiting to be activated again.

These accounts could be something minor: like Facebook, Twitter, or other forms of social media for example. They could also be quite important: bank, owned websites for example.


Online Legacy


Passwords can of course be recovered and websites will most likely have other admins with sufficient access. But what about your Facebook profile?

As reported by the BBC, Facebook has given users the option to have their page permanently deleted when they die.

Initially only available in the US, Facebook’s legacy contact feature will enable users to elect a Legacy Contact who will have special permissions over your profile in the event of your death: this gives a new meaning to nothing dying on the internet.

“That’s always been the case, regardless of what Facebook choose to do in relation to your ability to maintain a page for a lost relative, once it gets posted online, in theory, it can last forever,” explains Mark James, ESET security specialist.

Mark adds that “Facebook state your account may be deleted but the information that may have already been available could be sitting on anyone’s hard drive or printer.” This is probably a good time to go and check your Facebook privacy settings, just in case.

“Most of the time [online profiles] will sit there on a server until the company decide they need the space and run some kind of housekeeping routine to delete accounts not used for X amount of days.”

What about accounts with value? Say you have some items running on eBay, some cash sitting in your PayPal account, or a substantial YouTube channel running ads, what should happen with them?


Last Will and Testament


Your Facebook page is one thing: it’s great that people can grieve and remember the high points of someone’s life but there is little monetary value in the average person’s page.

A PayPal account with a large amount of money in it or a YouTube account with hundreds of thousands or millions of subscribers, which could still be generating ad revenue, inherently has more of a material value.

“We hear more and more about how your digital signature belongs to you in almost the same capacity as your real life, which should mean you have the same rights to dictate what happens to it after you die.”

In the case of a YouTube channel, might we see them and their associated ad revenue passed down in a Will or simply consumed by Google?

“If that is what you wish then you should be able to leave those instructions, as you own the account you should have a say in what happens to it once you pass.”

I wonder to what extent that could be abused? Unfortunately that is always my first thought with a new online feature. We see fake obituaries posted fairly often for celebrities. What if someone could effectively phish control of a large YouTube network away from the rightful owner?


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Do you have any online profiles you would go to the trouble of putting in a Will?