Although people increasingly live their lives online, few bother to specify what should happen to their digital assets once they log off for good. But failure to plan for the digital afterlife can cause problems for those left to sort out the affairs of the deceased. Without a username and password family members can struggle to access valuable web domains, online accounts – even photographs and documents on a PC.
"People aren't very aware of what you might call their living online legacy – potential employers looking at their Facebook accounts, for example. The issue of what happens to that information after their death is an extension of that," says Yorick Wilks, a senior research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute.
Losing a friend or family member is painful enough, but imagine the extra, unnecessary jabs when that friend's social networking profile continues to pop up in searches. Or say your friend was particularly wise or witty when posting online, but when you went back to reference something later, the entire record was gone without a trace.
Today, many of us keep our profiles, blog posts, and musings entirely online, leaving family, friends, and service providers stuck trying to figure out what to do with a deceased user's digital bits.