Till death logs us off

What happens to our cyberselves after death?

MARYKE PENMAN
Last updated 05:00 19/12/2013

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Instructions on how to deal with online profiles are becoming a common feature of people's last will and testaments.

The level of personal information shared online is such that people are now taking steps to preserve or disable their internet presence once they die.

Auckland-based law firm Lowndes Jordan has developed a dedicated service to advise people on their "digital afterlife".

Photos and documents stored on a cloud server, email accounts, blog posts and social media profiles remain active when a user dies, unless a verified person takes action.

Netsafe chief technology officer Sean Lyons says gaining control of that information is important for security and emotional reasons.

"Five years ago your Facebook might have been a few dribbly, half-drunk posts. Now it is becoming a central repository for everything."

Social networks and email accounts are becoming people's only address book and, in many cases, the only storage place for precious photos, he says.

Around 250 million photos are uploaded to Facebook daily, according to the company's own statistics.

Google has announced an Inactive Account Manager whereby users can choose to delete their data after three, six or 12 months of inactivity, or nominate someone to receive it.

"If we're going to use these online services, especially the ostensibly free ones, we've got to take responsibility for the way we're using it," Mr Lyons says.

Estimates from social media commentators put the number of dead Facebook users at between 10 to 20 million.

Mr Lyons says internet companies like Facebook and Google encourage users to plan their "digital afterlife" because it is in their commercial interests.

"If two million users are dead that is a problem. There's no use advertising to dead people. I imagine it is also about managing their information flow as well."

Facebook does not allow access to a deceased person's profile unless there is documented instruction from the deceased person.

Profiles can be converted into memorial pages with verification of a death.

More than half of the New Zealand population has a Facebook profile and there around 840 million users worldwide.

"In the immediate time after someone's death, posts on their page can be difficult for family and friends to take. But it can also let people know what has happened and to share memories of that person," Mr Lyons says.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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