On the Internet, nobody knows you're dead.
Your data and personal accounts and digital identity—content that is increasingly being referred to as your "digital estate"—remain in the cloud, of course. But what's to become of it all? Should your Facebook profile remain accessible, your Instagram archived? And who should have access?
As our lives and identities are increasingly managed online and channeled through social media, the notion of digital estate management has become less of a dystopian punchline and more a topic of genuine concern—but only five states have addressed the question, NPR's All Tech Considered blog notes today:
Only five states have enacted laws so far to address digital estate management, according to an article in the journal CommLaw Conspectus. There is no uniform federal law. Without it—and if you're in a state without clear-cut digital estate guidelines—the various service agreements of Internet companies govern what happens to our digital identities after death.
That can be problematic because of privacy concerns and the lack of uniformity in policies among Internet and social media companies.
Those five states include Oklahoma, Idaho, Rhode Island, Indiana, and Connecticut. Elsewhere, as NPR's Elise Hu chronicles, your online afterlife (or your loved one's) is at the behest of the service agreements of the tech companies in question, most of whom haven't really figured out a plan to address human mortality, either. Take, for example, the case of Anthony Cannata, who committed suicide in 2011:
The murky rules around digital asset management made the 20-year-old's suicide even more painful. Before taking his own life in 2011, Cannata uploaded a photo to his Facebook account that showed him holding a gun to his mouth. His family and friends petitioned Facebook to remove the photo or grant them access to his account to remove it after his death. But because they faced obstacles in getting access, the disturbing photo stayed online for more than a month, not removed by Facebook until Cannata's mother sent the company a newspaper article about the situation.
Absent any established legal policy, a handful of morbid-minded web entrepreneurs have launched services with names like Legacy Locker and DataInherit to help you secure your digital life. The New York Times Magazine profiled the curious business in early 2011, and it seems the whole thing made some readers queasy, one going so far as to call it "the latest cyberspace craze devoted to self-delusional egotism."