Access to the Email Account Wanted

Frequently Bequeathed Digital Artifacts and Assets

Susan knew that physical possessions always get sorted out in one way or the other. She was curious about what actually happens to the digital stuff. She had a hard time because she couldn’t find much information and she felt like she was probably the only person who feels that this is important. However, in a short time this topic started to be discussed in newspapers and on many blogs. She found particularly striking that most of the web-based services don’t acknowledge for the possibility of the users’ death. She was baffled when she read a newspaper article about the case of a family who were suing ‘Yahoo!’ in order to get access to an email account of their son, who was a U. S. marine and died in Iraq. Susan became especially careful with keeping all her important information in a separate folder, so it could be accessible even after her death without having to go through court.

The Most Influencing Digital Assets: Social Networking Sites

In the past couple of years, we have witnessed a big expansion of the social networking websites as the number of their users grows exponentially. They became perhaps the most influencing digital asset. They provide an important connection between our communities in physical and digital worlds and they occupy a considerable amount of time in our lives.

We use them to project our identity to the world. This identity is equally constructed by us, as by those who comment on our posts or post on our profiles. The dedicated social networking sites enable us to reach a specific audience in a matter of seconds. However, we still have to learn to use them properly. Many people maintain the same connections and publish the same content across different services. But we should distinguish among them. We don’t have to necessarily accept friend requests of our bosses on Facebook or add our friends on LinkedIn.

We store collections of personally relevant content on social networking websites and they encourage us to put there as much personal information as possible. While they can help us to organize our information, such as curriculum, photos or events as a byproduct, we should avoid posting the same content to all of them, as its maintenance and updating can become a nuisance. We should also put more effort in applying our privacy policies, as we never know the full context in which our digital content appears. For example, some companies screen their potential hires on Facebook and it may not be appropriate to share party pictures in an unrestricted manner. Similarly to everything through email, some people may apply an everything through social networking approach to organize their personal information. This is even easier as many of the services allow us to create a local backup of our data.

The social networking websites make the identity persistence possible. If we don’t do anything, our content may remain online for an indefinite amount of time. In the article As Facebook Users Die, Ghosts Reach Out by Jenna Wortham, we find a testimony of a user who reports that seeing her dead friend’s face on Facebook was uncomfortable at first, but after some time she actually became grateful for the remembrance. We should be careful when considering what to do with our social networking profiles after our death. They can provide a source of information to our bereaved families and friends. Our profiles are most likely interconnected with many other users, who may be hurt if we decide to take our content away or delete the account. We have never met in physical life many of the people with whom we interact online every day. We should consider to leave a final post for them, since it may be difficult to figure out that we passed away, as there is no physical evidence or confirmation. However, other people may find our persistent online presence on social networking sites creepy.

Slowly, the social networking websites are coming up with solutions for dealing with the death of their users. For example, Facebook already gives the possibility to convert user profiles into a memorial state, where only the wall remains enabled, so people can reminisce about the dead. But the mechanisms of transferring the account ownership (and attendant digital possessions) to the bereaved remain unclear. We may consider to include the social networking websites into our personal inventory.