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Ask Slashdot: What Should Happen To Your Data After You Die? 122

Nerval's Lobster writes "Death is Nature's way of telling you it's time to get off the Internet. But when you finally shuffle off this mortal coil, you leave something behind: all your email and other digital assets. That's a huge problem not only for the deceased — once you're on the wrong side of the Great Beyond, there's no way to delete those incriminating messages — but also any relatives who might want to access your (former) life. And it's a problem Google's seeking to solve with the new Inactive Account Manager. (In an April 11 blog posting, Google product manager Andreas Tuerk suggested that Inactive Account Manager wasn't a 'great name' for the product, but maybe the company shouldn't be so hard on itself: it's a way better name than, say, Google Death Dashboard.) Inactive Account Manager will delete your Google-related data (Gmail, etc.) after a set amount of time, or else send that data to 'trusted contacts' you set up before your untimely demise. Which raises an interesting, semi-Google-related question: What do you want to have happen to your data after you die? Give it to loved ones, or have an automated system nuke it all? Should more companies that host email and data offer plans like Inactive Account Manager?"
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Ask Slashdot: What Should Happen To Your Data After You Die?

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  • Where's the... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MasseKid ( 1294554 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @05:19PM (#43435935)
    I don't care, I'm self centered and dead option?
    • I call bullshit. Now you have to opt-out of Google's spying every time your account is deleted.

      • by ackthpt ( 218170 )

        Just leave a trail of baffling BS. It's the least you can do for your legacy. Maybe you'll end up with a cult following, like L. Ron.

        • by Seumas ( 6865 )

          What the fuck do you think I've been doing for the last 15 years on Slashdot?! :D

          • by ackthpt ( 218170 )

            Then leave somewhere some hidden caches with statements your cult following are all wackos, nuts, loonies, etc. hidden all over the place, along with a signature and photo of you doing something contrary to their beliefs.

      • I call bullshit. Now you have to opt-out of Google's spying every time your account is deleted.

        How many times are you planning to die, Mr. Bond?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      After I am dead this meta-data is of no use for me... My heirs can figure it out...

      Why not do what millions of others have done? Nothing.

      • Why not do what millions of others have done? Nothing.

        I suppose for AC's, this is a particularly attractive option.

    • by ackthpt ( 218170 )

      I don't care, I'm self centered and dead option?

      When you are gone you cease to be self-centered, you are dead-centered. A target! Ripe for bruteforced attacks on your history! Just a matter of time before some character in North Korea and completely re-done your entire browsing and interweb content history as a life-long supporter of Dear Leader Fatty-fattington.

      Best buy some After-life Insurance or something.

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      I also do not care. I also have no will. I want everybody to genuinely be grieving.

      • You can show them goatse in your will. That is a form of data, and they will genuinely grieve after seeing it.

      • I also have no will. I want everybody to genuinely be grieving.

        Once the legal battles and government intervention grabs much of your assets, they'll be grieving plenty.

        Having no will is what lawyers would term a "Dick Move".

    • I don't care, I'm self centered and dead option?

      If you were REALLY self centered, then obviously you'd want many people to be able to read your brilliant thoughts long after you are gone.

    • I don't care, I'm self centered and dead option?

      This is pretty much what I was thinking: if I'm dead why the fuck would I care what happens to my data as I'm no longer around to see it? I just really don't care, they may do with it as they please at that point. If someone found something in my belongings that offended them, well, that would be their own problem -- shouldn't be digging in stuff if you aren't prepared to find stuff and all that.

  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @05:22PM (#43435969)

    It will be like you never existed

  • by Synerg1y ( 2169962 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @05:26PM (#43435999)

    1. Husband dies, google releases data, wife finds out husband spent all excess cash on cam whores.
    2. Google deletes husband's data, treasure map / account numbers are lost.
    3. Husband makes another unrelated gmail account, a set time later, wife is notified husband is dead while eating dinner with him.

    Google just can't win here can they? :)

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 12, 2013 @05:32PM (#43436053)

      4. Kid gets grounded from the computer, mom receives all his porn.

      • 5. Google deletes Paranoid Peter's data, real threats and conspiracy evidences are lost forever. Whoa, it could be a Hollywood script!
    • by Anonymous Coward

      3. Husband makes another unrelated gmail account, a set time later, wife is notified husband is dead while eating dinner with him.

      If the wife is checking her google mail during the family diner, she has it coming!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Husband makes another unrelated gmail account, a set time later, wife is notified husband is dead while eating dinner with him.

      I have of course not read TFA, but you'd hope they did sensible things like send out warnings in advance.
      Probably something like

      Dear Mr./Mrs. X. This email has been automatically sent out because [explanation of inactive account system]. We hope this is all some silly mistake and that Y is doing fine. If we do not detect further activity on Y's account within 10 days, [stuff will happen]. Y can prevent this by [various ways to notify Google of non-deadness].

      Compare prices on tombstones and funeral services.
      Recently single? Search thousands of hot girls and guys in your area!

  • Is he a slashdot staffer?
  • by linear a ( 584575 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @05:33PM (#43436057)
    Taking everybody with me.
  • by ilikenwf ( 1139495 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @05:35PM (#43436073)
    My git repos, some of which just mirror other projects, others which are private to me, would be opened up to the public, except for code that isn't mine to relicense as GPL. Other data released publically via webservers would include archival data of various rare tv, books, etc that I have collected.

    Emails, banking stuff, and all that would go to the appropriate family members.
    • by mysidia ( 191772 )

      except for code that isn't mine to relicense as GPL

      I'd just open it all up, with appropriate disclaimers, just because of the fact that the information ought to be free, and you cannot sue a corpse

    • by kermidge ( 2221646 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @10:47PM (#43438107) Journal

      That's the way, I think, except for those who flat out don't care. I've given a few people, the same that I've named and filed with my advanced directive, an envelope with master password to 'The Vault' so that they can unload what they please and close the accounts. Still have to write a will and have it notarized.

      It's not so much that I care a lot about digital stuff vanishing into mass storage somewhere but I don't want to leave the people I care about with possibly vexing dangling digital details.

      Computer goes to a friend anyway, so no worries about anything embarrassing on the drives; my home folder will be available to family and friends - family pics, favorite comics, possibly useful links and documents and some stray writing. They don't want it, erase it.

      I'm not sure I'm entirely comfortable with Google's approach to a dead man switch, but it's a helluva good start; it's a nice thing to do and it could help keep things smooth for them as well.

      But I'd suggest doing the bulk of arrangements in meat space. Do it now: we don't know our time, so it doesn't hurt to not leave as much of a mess behind as doing nothing. Folks above are right, tho - when I'm gone I'm likely not going to care anymore. Dead is probably just that. If there is anything after, whatever one's beliefs, you won't find out until it happens.

  • Assuming I don't die an untimely, unforeseen death, I had always planned on consolidating my data, and preparing it to be buried with me. I don't want to burden my family with having to sort through things. Plus in the future, in the case that reanimation is made possible I can have my stuff again, or in the more likely event that future paleontologists dig me up, they will have lots of history/information to figure out what made us primitive humans tick.
    • you might just be making a case for later warrant to have your corpse and data exhumed. save your family the trauma, torch your shit

    • Plus in the future, in the case that reanimation is made possible I can have my stuff again

      “Good morning sir, and welcome to the future. Technology has advanced to the point where we can revive a corpse that was embalmed and stuffed in a box for centuries. Unfortunately, it seems that we can't read the Office 2083 files that all your data are stored in, so we're just going to have to kill and re-bury you now in hope of future research advances.”

  • Remember how everyone is supposed to have their 15 minutes of fame, like Andy said?

    So my figuring is this - there are more celebs and notable people than ever before, thanks in part to the web.

    Therefore the gross overall amount of fame has increased, while time has remained constant, so people will have less than 15 minutes of fame. Gotta be down to about 10 minutes, or less by now. Right?

    So my plan is to go about making everyone else famous. The more fame and notoriety of ordinary clods applies downward

    • But, time could be infinite, or near to it. Who says you have to be famous while you are alive? Perhaps some random bit of data or code you have now will be found by archeologists in the far future, and it will solve some massive problem saving their civilization. Heck, look at some of the famous authors, artists, composers, etc. thru time, where their bio ends with "... succumbed to the ravages of syphilis and died a homeless pauper in the winter of ..." or whatever.

  • All that I ask is that my browser history is nuked. The world would be a better place without knowing the websites I have been to. I should have a bracelet made that says, please delete my browser history if I die.
  • "What Should happen to your data after you die?" is a question so vague as to be vacuuous.

    Fairly obviously, just like any other flavor of cruft you accumulate during your time as a successful combatant against entropy, different flavors of data are best disposed of in different ways. We've only had more-or-less-all-of-recorded-human-civilization to work on this problem...

    The new issue on the plate isn't so much 'OMG! 'Data' is a mysterious and fundamentally novel category!!!' but "Shit, huge swaths of 'my d

  • There should be a giant online cemetery where a person's online presence can retire when the body withers. Oh, wait... we already have one and it's called the Wayback Machine. Maybe there just needs to be more explicit cooperation with it about things like forum user profiles and social networking accounts? And maybe better funding?

  • Let your family decide what they want to do with your data. Write down all of your passwords (if you're like me, you've got about a dozen) along with your usual accounts on a piece of paper and put them in a safety deposit box. When you pass and they go through your deposit box, they'll come across your credentials and decide what they'd like to do with your digital data. Some people would like to read it, others would prefer not to.

    This strategy has an added bonus; if they ever come across a site that

  • This sounds more like a system implemented so Google does not have to deal with old accounts. It sounds good to me. If a user does not log in for a couple years, delete the data. Why should google have to pay to maintain old data that no one probably wants. Even banks get to close accounts after a number of years inactivity. This is the basis for all those commercials that proclaim "Government has billions of dollars of publics money, some of it could be yours!" In this case there is good legal reason
  • Your spouse (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hey ( 83763 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @05:48PM (#43436185) Journal

    Or its a sneaky way of Google finding the email address of the person your trust the most?
    Probably your spouse.

  • What is so fucking complicated about this?

    I was sorting out a will recently and even my non-clued up solicitor (US=lawyer) recommended putting passwords in my sealed will. Apparently, this is a standard recommendation from the law society for every will written in the UK.

    Without a doubt, every other country on planet Earth must have it's lawyers recommend something similar.

    What is the story here?
    • The problem with that is your passwords (hopefully) change occasionally which means you have to pester the lawyer / solicitor / brother / turtle (they live a long time) constantly and what's worse, you have to remember to tell them. A better method is a password safe like 1Password or KeePass. Then you only have one password to change. Furthermore, with at least 1Password, you have an encrypted file of lots of other useful legal bits, your SSN, bank account numbers, etc. Of course, that makes for one st

  • If I'm old and wrinkly but don't lose my (admittedly odd) sense of humor, I'd be tempted to rick-roll my family.

    As a final farewall, he's a few pictures of my wrinkly butt. The code to the account with your inheritance is hidden somewhere in there...

  • by goffster ( 1104287 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @06:08PM (#43436351)

    St Peter asks your for all social media passwords.
    I, for one, would want to make sure those accounts no longer exist.

  • Apropos (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 12, 2013 @06:09PM (#43436365)

    I have stave IV lung cancer, and maybe a few weeks left to go. Since I was an only child, both of my parents are gone, and I never married or had children, I basically have nobody who would want to have my data.

    So, I am basically just erasing myself from existence. There is very little on the Internet with my name on it to begin with - no facebook, LinkedIn, or any other social media like that. I do have a few hundred family photos from when I was much young that I scanned in. When I am close, I will say my goodbyes to my parents (again) and delete those, too.

    Death is a profound experience. When you realize yours is coming and there isn't anything that can be done about it, you begin to want to disconnect from the hive and spend your last days alone to ponder your life and existence. It's not something I expected - when I was first diagnosed I thought I would want to party as much as possible until I passed - spend as much time with friends as I could. But, that turned out not to be the case.

    I'm really too weak at this point to do much of anything except sit around and talk or surf, but when I left my job and cashed out my life insurance, I did spend some time volunteering and giving money away. I didn't feel any need to take pictures, or develop memories. It felt much more like a final responsibility to dispose of my wealth and give it to people who could do something good with it.

    Now I really only get online to talk about my imminent death and try to pass on what little knowledge I have about the subject when the topic comes up. The truth is, death makes you grow old. I'm 40 and feel like I have lived 90 years.

    Anyway, your data may mean something to someone - why wait until you die to pass it on? Give it to people now - especially those good thoughts that you think might make them happy. There's no reason for you to make someone think "why couldn't he have said this to me while he was alive??" That's just cruel.

    Life is short. Shorter than you think.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      When a friend of mine died in his thirties from cancer, I got to 'hang around' with him for the months leading up. Enough weird, unexplainable things happened then, like his seeing kids flying in through the windows, his seeing 7 doors in the wall, and one night him talking to/asking someone in the empty chair next to me if 'Jack' was coming over tomorrow. He got mad at me when I interuppted. Nodding at where the person's head would be (if they were visible) he said, "Uh huh..., he is..." 'Jack' was a hospi

    • All great points. You may also have distant relatives or old friends who may still be interested in your life either now or later. At the very least, historians may be interested in your life, including in your local historical society. See for example:
      "Why do historians value letters and diaries" []
      "Thus, the historical value of reading diaries and letters involves understanding the significance of how individual writers employed, experimented with, or alter

    • If nothing else, I am glad that the timing of everything was such that this story came along for you to post in before you could not do so; I am better for having read it and will carry the thoughts with me going forward.

  • What should happen, at a minimum, is that your data gets packaged up and archived for maybe a hundred years, and then open sourced.

    Basically, what a lot of historical people have always done with their personal papers.

    The historical value of a lifetime of data for everyone who dies would be immense. And for fans of Caprica, maybe they'll bring "you" back.

  • Check out the radio 4 (truly excellent channel)'s recent episode on our digital legacy [] (ep3 of Out of the Ordinary) - it discusses not only what happens to your data after you die (eg people can still send you emails and unless they know you're dead just assume you're ignoring them), but also your online presences (eg your facebook page that is still active). Then there's the issue that accessing your old data might help your grieving relatives (assuming you use a different email account for porn) or hurt t

  • The name needs a few more words. Instead of IAM, the acronym should be IAMNOT.
  • I am leaving everything to my AI avatar. May the "Lord" have mercy on his/my soul, err, mind.
  • So, ummm... do they actually delete your data? Or just your account? I didn't think they ever delete data.
  • A good friend of mine recently died of a heart attack quite young. It was quite a shock, and there's not much to remember him with but I do have many years of MSN Messenger chat logs that I always made a point to keep for some reason. I haven't gone through them yet, but I would like to soon.

    I wouldn't mind if my data was left up after I'm gone, in case anybody cares to see it. If you've ever contributed to a site or an online community, I think that information is nice to see for your still living loved
  • I think having something available like "Inactive Account Manager" is a good idea. It could be set up to either nuke, or give an estate executor legal access as desired by the account owner. Some of us may not want to leave the people we leave behind hanging.

    While I tend to agree, on personal aspects, with the guy that's stage IV, I was thinking more of business type things. I sell real estate, I would hate to go out thinking I left someone unable to complete a sale or purchase and thus be unable to get on
  • In America, you can always find a party . In Soviet Russia, the Party always finds YOU!! So I decided to encrypt ALL my data. The data I am going to give to my heirs will be encoded with some key on bootable flash drives and entrusted to 3 different persons, each having 2/3 of total key length. Any 2 of them (but no single person) will be able to decode them. If the Party finds any one of them while I live it will be impossible to obtain the data.

  • As long as it doesn't embarrass or incriminate my friends or family members, why would I give a shit? I'd be dead.

    • Why do you think that it will NOT incriminate your family members? For instance, my friend's granddaddy was a hunter and left a lot of rifles and ammo. My friend does not want to surrender it due to understandable self-defense concerns (It's Soviet Russia!) but if he dies his family members should know where his arsenal is hidden.

  • Whatever provisions you write in your will should be followed.

  • I realise that we all like to make jokes about Slashdot readers being nerds and never having a girlfriend, but seriously... by the time most of us die, we will be married with kids and grandchildren.

    If you're a newbie geek, under 20, maybe even under 30, chances are you might be single, sure.

    But don't believe the stereotype. You won't be single forever.

    Once you get over 30, and your attractive-to demographic becomes 25+ , CHICKS DIG STABILITY. Yeah, sure, your dream girl at school rejected you for some spor

  • I think there should be a default setting where all your information is made public after 100 years and immediately becomes public domain. All our photos, and most private conversations become publicly searchable and usable in any way whatsover. This will provide future generations with a wealth of historical and research information like we have never seen. Besides the historical value... this may also assist in other research such as disease and mental illness or just understanding human behaviour. I thin
  • Perhaps in the future some budding entrepreneurs will come up with an idea of setting up a company that collects the deceased's data with their sophisticated web crawlers and preserve in their specially designed vaults (micro SDs:)). Just like people keep their loved ones ashes ! One copy for them and one copy for the family! What do you think?

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas