Our digital lives have become a larger part of our identity since the introduction of the first social media website. We go there to escape from real life and have a place where we can blow off steam, keep track of cultural trends, or meet and get to know people from across the nation. In addition to social media, many people’s daily activities increasingly rely on digital accounts and use computers and personal electronic devices to store important files and documents, such as digital photos and videos, email accounts, financial documents and other important information. However, for many of us, that part of our lives is private. In some cases, so private that we don’t want anyone else to know about it.
What do you do if you don’t want anyone or only a select few to have access to those digital assets?
Previously, we covered what you should do to ensure your family and friends’ have access to your digital assets after you pass away, but, in this post, we’ll talk about how to prevent those from having access.
Now, this is not something you can just request in your will and move on. In most cases, your digital assets cannot be specifically noted in your will with instructions on what access the executor or beneficiary has to each digital account and the desired action for them to take. It’s more that you have to talk with your family about what you want done with your digital assets after you pass away. If you don’t want anyone to access your digital assets after you pass, the terms of service for some online accounts prevent loved ones from having access or provide a path to prevent access.
As you can see as we review some of these different sites, many companies already take steps to ensure your privacy even after you pass away whether you want it or not.
To start, let’s discuss the most ubiquitous social media company in the world: Facebook. The way Facebook deals with deceased persons is allowing them to either create a legacy contact to manage the account or requesting that Facebook deletes the account. If you don’t want anyone to have access to your Facebook account, requesting that Facebook delete the profile is the best way to go about it. Once Facebook is notified that you have passed away, your account will be deleted, preventing anyone from access to your account. The only caveat is someone must notify Facebook.
When it comes to Apple, the company has stated that there are no rights of survivorship. This basically means that when you pass away, any rights to your content and your ID terminate upon your death. It also states that your account is not transferable after you pass away so Apple will not just hand it over if a family member asks for it. At most, family members can request that your account and its contents be deleted if they send Apple a death certificate to verify that you have passed away.
As for Google, they state, “We cannot provide passwords or other login details.” Google will help family members delete an account, but they will not allow them access.
Next, Twitter. From the outset, Twitter states on their website, “We are unable to provide account access to anyone regardless of their relationship to the deceased.” This means that when you pass away, no one will be able to access your account even if they request the password from Twitter. The most an executor or family member can do without the password is request the deletion of the account.
When it comes to LinkedIn, family, friends and coworkers (or, really, anyone) can request that your profile is deleted after you pass away. This is the limit of their actions as LinkedIn will not provide the password to another user’s account. The only option available is the profile deletion request.
What about files you have on Dropbox that you don’t want anyone to access? It is somewhat complicated in that any files you have on Dropbox are also likely located on the hard drive of the computer you use to access the website. If the files are only on Dropbox, the site makes it difficult for anyone to gain access to the account. They must request access and Dropbox reserves the right to decline the request. Along with it, the person making the request needs to provide a court order which grants them access along with the deceased’s name and email, the requester’s name, address, email address and a photocopy of a valid ID.
When it comes to SecureSafe, the online password manager, they have a Data Inheritance program that provides passwords and other information to a designated person upon the death of the user. However, the Data Inheritance program is solely reliant on the passwords the user provides. If a user does not want anyone to have access to a specific website, they simply avoid putting that information into the program.
There are many other digital assets that haven’t been addressed in this article, but a general rule of thumb is, if it requires a password to access it, you should have a plan for it when you’re gone. Determine whether or not you’d like your executor, family or loved ones to be able to access the account after you’ve passed and take steps to ensure that your wishes are fulfilled. At the end of the day, when it comes to protecting your privacy in the digital sphere, many companies have safeguards already in place preventing anyone from obtaining your password. In many cases, should anyone want that information, the company will simply refuse to provide it and require a court order for anyone to have access to your accounts.
The best way, it seems, to protect your privacy is to allow your passwords to pass away with you. Many companies understand your right to privacy and work to prevent anyone from accessing your accounts. This will allow your private life to remain private.