Should We Worry About Our Digital Afterlife?

As I picked up a copy of the Financial Times Wealth supplement on the Eurostar to Paris, my intent was clear – Chill and relax. It didn’t last long as I stumbled upon an article called “The Long Goodbye”.  It poses mind-boggling questions “what becomes of someone’s Facebook or Twitter account after they die? Or more philosophically, who manages your ‘digital afterlife’?”

There is plenty written about the digital age, the digital economy or even the post-digital era, whatever that means, but a digital afterlife! Yet, it makes sense. We are putting online vast amounts of information, pictures, videos, blogs and so on about our work, ideas and private life. And our children have been doing it for longer than us. But, the law does not automatically grant access of this data to family and beneficiaries when you pass away.

Apple, the ultimate “love brand”, is unambiguous. Downloads from iTunes cannot be transferred after death as the license lapses. If you think this feels weird for purchased digital formats, it gets worse when it comes to your own personal data. Facebook, for instance, states “for reasons of privacy, we do not grant friends or relatives of a deceased person access to their Facebook profile”. Wow. Others, like Google, have attempted to be a bit more sensitive. Its Inactive Account Manager feature allows you to specify what happens to your data when the account becomes inactive.

Clearly, legislation is out of sync with our information-intensive digital lives. And, as we put more of our “life stories” in remote storage the problem will get worse. Apparently, Oklahoma is the place to be. Legislation there covers the handling of digital assets after the owner dies. Great, but I’m happy in London.  Being a digital optimist, I am sure my esteemed friends in the regulatory and legal profession will solve this complex issue in the not too distant future. And no doubt that many, high margins, “digital afterlife” legal practices will emerge in the process.

For my part, I totally excuse and thank the author of the article, Paul Solman, for having disturbed my quest for entertainment. I discovered another piece of the complex digital economy puzzle that we are all trying to crack. But, on reflection, I will continue to concentrate on trying to get corporations through the first loop of becoming digital businesses. There’s only so much you can do in a lifetime.

I'm an Executive Vice-President at Capgemini Consulting and global practice leader. Also writer and speaker focused on digital strategy and transformation and how it is changing businesses, individuals and societies. I am a co-author of the best-selling book - "Leading Digital: Turning Technology Into Business Transformation", published by HBR. #LeadingDigital - TW: @didiebon

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