It’s ephemeral, ill-defined. A memory is impossible to replicate from one person to
another, attached as it is to an individual’s every thought, emotion and life experience.
So what of digital memories? If an image or a string of words remains forever, is it still a
memory or does it become something more tangible?
Be Safe Online Dealing With Digital Death www.avg.com 2
ncreasingly, we are all constructing
our own personal digital profiles:
our photos - sometimes from the
grainiest pregnancy ultrasound photo all
the way through adulthood; our bodies
of work; our thoughts, dreams, fears,
questions, casual asides; the networks of
friends we align ourselves with. All these
elements form how we appear outwardly
and will remain, long after we’re gone,
in a configuration that’s much more
substantial than mere memories.
These digital advancements are eliciting
an emerging philosophical debate and it’s
gaining urgency. How do you manage your
digital legacy - the collection of memories
that encapsulates you - after you’re gone?
And what if you’re unexpectedly left to do
the same for a loved one? Where do you
It makes for uncomfortable thinking, and
most of us won’t have considered it. The
e-mail accounts. Social profiles. Personal
blogs. Online accounts with the iTunes or
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But the
good news is, advice is available and there
are services to help you plan for or manage
this delicate situation.
Digital technology also offers innovative
ways to gather some of the most intimate
aspects of a person, such as cherished
photos or music, to share in tribute. A
legacy, in memoriam.
IntroductionIt takes seconds to create online accounts, but have you considered what happens to
them when you die? Start now to make the process of getting your affairs in order as
straightforward as possible for loved ones left behind.
Judy Bitterli is a Senior
Vice President at AVG.
She blogs about online
ew can fail to be moved by stories
of parents, spouses and adult
children or siblings struggling to
come to terms with their loved one’s
digital identity after a difficult loss.
Where that person might have been a
frequent Facebook updater suddenly
there’s a void, yet some essence of them
remains. In bereavement, others feel
compelled to send messages to their
loved one’s e-mail address or listen to
that person’s voice mails.
Is there a right time to remove those
elements of a person’s digital identity,
or should they be left as a memorial?
And where do you start if you’re not
sure how far your loved one’s digital
life extended? There could be multiple
e-mail accounts, social network profiles,
gamer or virtual-world identities, blogs
and financial details stored with online
retailers and other services.
Not only are there the questions of what
information is online and how to find it,
but what about that person’s wishes?
Who is best to administer a digital sweep
that could reveal sensitive and possibly
contentious information? And what are
the legal or financial ramifications?
Legal systems are still playing catch-up
and in some instances families have had
to turn to obtaining court orders to gain
access to accounts.
Although some bigger websites have
created processes to deal with the death
of a user, in many instances access to
accounts is still strictly monitored. But
should all assets – offline and online – be
passed over to an estate executor at the
time of someone’s death? Or do online
services have a responsibility to protect
users’ privacy, even after death?
ConsiderationsWhether a loved one’s death is expected or comes as a shock, knowing how to
deal with their digital footprint can be a complicated and emotional ordeal.
As difficult as it may be, it’s an important matter to get right.
Be Safe Online Dealing With Digital Death www.avg.com 3
Where do you start if
you’re not sure how far
your loved one’s digital
xperts advise outlining how you
wish your digital affairs to be
handled in a legally binding context.
Sometimes called a social media will,
the idea is similar to the traditional legal
document except it stipulates what
should happen to your online content
and who should be the executor, granted
with your passwords and information
about accessing all your accounts.
A template can be downloaded from
USA.gov, which provides a simple,
straightforward outline of how to get
started. Then it’s just a question of
choosing and notifying an executor and
deciding where such a document should
Archiving content you want to preserve
is recommended. We can safely assume
the technology that exists today
will be obsolete in the future, and
when it disappears so will anything –
photos, recordings, written material
– that isn’t available in hard copies or a
Digital services can provide a bundle of
plans, such as archiving, notifying and
transferring information to an executor,
and data deleting.
Once your digital affairs are in order you
may want to consider to what extent you
will or won’t retain an online presence
after death. It’s tempting to think, ‘What
do I care what happens to my digital
presence after I’m gone?’ But keep in
mind those left behind, who might
find such reminders a painful or even
frustrating challenge to contend with.
Making it clear will give you the peace of
mind, knowing your information will be
in good hands.
Starting pointA number of services now exist to give individuals more control over what
happens to their personal digital information and to reduce the decisions to be
made by those left behind.
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Once your digital affairs
are in order, consider to
what extent your online
presence will remain
ust what happens to content? If it’s
on sites such as Facebook or photo-
sharing services such as Instagram,
those services can do what they like with
any ‘intellectual property’ shared there.
That means any musical performances
exclusively recorded and viewed on
YouTube, for example, could disappear at
the site’s discretion.
A number of sites market themselves
as safe and secure archiving services,
but some argue there will be a need for
today’s personal images and written
materials to be made public in the
future, much as the works of writers,
politicians and others are bequeathed
to universities, libraries and museums.
By the same token, there’s nothing to
say your child’s digital baby photos, for
instance, will still be available decades
Particularly when it comes to
photographs and video footage, other
questions arise around archiving and
digital legacies. Once someone has
passed away, what should become of
their images? If you have access to the
photo or video files, would the person in
question want them preserved and, if so,
how? Would they want a video of their
last years shared with future generations
and strangers, or would they have chosen
to be remembered as young and healthy?
Do we preserve everything for posterity,
or choose only things that present the
best, if not most honest, depiction?
These debates require measured
consideration that’s difficult at the best
of times, and if possible might be best left
until emotions aren’t running so high. It
can be tempting to make quick decisions
but think of what could be lost.
Ethical debatesSocial media thrives because people share so much of their lives. But what should
happen to all those photos, videos and words after a person’s death?
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Do we preserve
everything for posterity,
as our ancestors might
have done, or pick and
choose only things
that present the best
Google’s Inactive Account Manager
Google’s Inactive Account Manager instructs Google what to
do with a person’s digital assets. Alternatively, a trusted loved
one can be nominated to receive data, such as content from
Gmail, Google+ and YouTube from Google’s servers. More
information can be found here.
Requires a court order to delete a user’s account. The auction
site can be contacted on: 1-866-540-3229 between 5 a.m. and
10 p.m. Pacific Time, seven days a week.
An executor will need to send copies of the death certificate,
the will and a copy of the executor’s photo ID. More
information can be found here.
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Apple’s license agreement states that media purchased from
the company cannot be transferred to another user, but Apple
tend to be cooperative. Contact Apple here.
The process for deleting an account is different for every website and online
service. Here’s the most up-to-date advice on where to get started.
By its own admission, Netflix has nothing on its site to explain
how to deactivate a user’s account. But a customer service
representative said that with the user’s name or account
information, Netflix will be able to cancel an account. The 24-hour
Netflix customer service number is: 866-579-7172.
Amazon and Kindle require the user’s e-mail address and a copy
of the death certificate to be sent to: partner-phones-transfer@
amazon.com. Alternatively, an executor could contact customer
service with the user’s account, e-mail address and billing address:
1-866-321-8851 or 1-866-216-1072. Also, with the user’s e-mail
address and password, the executor should be able to access
content, such as things stored on the Cloud Drive.
When an executor contacts Pinterest to confirm a user’s death,
the account will be suspended to prevent it being logged into.
Public boards and pins will remain visible, and others “may retain
and continue to use, store, display, reproduce, re-pin, modify,
create derivative works, perform, and distribute any User Content
that other users have stored or shared through Pinterest.”
To delete a user’s YouTube channel, the executor would need to
sign into the channel, go to “advanced account settings” and
click “delete channel,” where the sign-in details will be required
again. Any videos, messages and comments will be permanently
deleted. For more information call: 1 650-253-0000.
If the username and password aren’t available, submit a report
to the help center. With the user’s information, an account can
be deleted by clicking on the username or profile picture in the
upper-right corner; selecting “edit profile” from the dropdown
menu; and clicking “delete my account” in the lower-right corner.
Content will be removed permanently.
An executor may need to have a username and password to
delete a Flickr account. Once in “Your Account,” scroll down to
“delete your Flickr account” and follow the instructions. Any
photos or content will no longer be publically accessible and will
be erased from Flickr’s servers. Find the page here.
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...And how to tackle the sensitive issue of social media profiles.
In order to deactivate an account, Twitter requires copies of a
number of documents, including the user’s death certificate
and a signed statement from the person making the request.
More information can be found here, or the information can be
faxed to: 1-415-865-5405.
With a memorial page, friends may be able to share memories
while the existing content on the account will remain visible.
This page will explain how to memorialize a page and answer
t’s an issue that Facebook is
attempting to address. The site’s
memorializing option makes a user’s
profile more private, so only confirmed
friends can see or locate it in a search
and sensitive information, like contact
details and status updates, is removed.
But memorializing or deactivating
an account can be a lengthy and
complicated process, especially for
anyone not familiar with the social
media sphere. Each social network –
from Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, LinkedIn,
Pinterest, YouTube and beyond – will
have different policies and ways of
closing down accounts. But because
the internet is an ever-changing
environment, there is no uniform
resource for people wishing to settle
the online affairs of those who have
The same goes for e-mail accounts,
personal blogs and websites. But while
shutting down a loved one’s digital
accounts may not be straightforward,
neither is it easy for someone else to
access those platforms; it’s relatively
unlikely your loved one’s words, images
or ideas could be appropriated or
Your loved one may have been an active
eBay seller, with outstanding transactions
or money to be collected from PayPal;
or they could be in credit with music-
or video-streaming services, such as
iTunes, or even online games. If they
had a personal e-commerce website or
sold items through sites such as Etsy,
transactions will need to be handled by
the executor of the deceased’s estate -
another good reason for sharing digital
documents and passwords ahead of time.
Ever-changingIncreasingly, social spaces are morphing into an online gathering place where
people can mourn and share memories. It’s impossible to accurately calculate how
many memorial pages exist on Facebook and elsewhere, but they will continue to
grow into the millions.
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While shutting down
a loved one’s digital
accounts may not be
is it easy for someone else
to access those platforms
reating a photo montage or a
playlist of your loved one’s favorite
music isn’t difficult to do online,
and many funeral planners can cater to
your wishes. Both mediums invite others
to share stories of their own memories
and can open a dialogue while leaving a
But music preferences are deeply
personal. If you’re charged with choosing
music for a funeral service, you may
not have anything more to go on
than a vague idea that your loved one
appreciated classical compositions but
wasn’t religious. A quick web search
can offer an array of options and
considerations, and family members and
friends may appreciate being asked for
their thoughts on what would best suit
the service and the person being honored.
For those who struggle with what to say
in a eulogy or how to write a condolence
card, there are tips and ideas available
through a simple web search.
Finally, technology can provide comfort
in other ways. In addition to connecting
with others experiencing grief or loss
and providing help, advice and real-world
resources, digital technology can bring
people together in ways that weren’t
previously possible. If you suffer a
loss and have no way of making it to a
memorial service, it might be streamed
live through a private web channel or a
video conference service such as Skype.
Of course none of these technological
advancements can take the place of the
physical and emotional support we need
in such difficult times. Care should be
taken not to become too dependent on,
or isolated by, digital alternatives.
RemembranceAt a time when grief is raw, it can be tremendously difficult looking at pictures of
and, particularly, listening to music files stored by your loved one. At the same
time, some will find comfort in these touchstones; they offer a connection and
possibly an insight to the person who is no longer here.
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For those who struggle
with what to say in a
eulogy or how to write
a condolence card,
there are tips and ideas
Social Media Will
Social media will info: http://www.usa.gov/topics/money/
personal-finance/wills.shtml. Create a statement of how you
would like your online identity to be handled.
Archiving service AVG LiveKive: http://www.avg.com/avg-
livekive. Back up and sync files from your devices, enabling you
to store and share data safely. Think of it as your own virtual
Messaging service DeadSocial: http://www.deadsoci.al. Create
a series of messages that are published to social networks only
once you pass away. You can also release unseen video and
audio messages – and the service is totally free.
Dead Man’s Switch
Email messaging service Dead Man’s Switch: http://www.
deadmansswitch.net. Works on the same premise as social
media messaging but sends out pre-written e-mails to select
recipients. An upgraded account, for a fee, allows individual
messages for multiple email addresses.
My Wonderful Life
Share stories with your loved ones: https://www.
mywonderfullife.com. Plan your funeral, leave letters for loved
ones, share memories, upload favourite photos and even write
your own obituary.
Memorial service advice from Everplans: http://www.everplans.
com. Provides tips and advice on a number of considerations,
including choosing music for a memorial service.
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hile there is some comfort
in being able to read the
memories or condolences of
others online, it’s an unfortunate truth
that with the benefits of technology
also come some downsides.
For example, some unscrupulous
individuals and companies may look
to exploit people who are vulnerable
because of a bereavement and/or due to
a limited understanding of technology.
As with most things, it’s probably best
not to rush into making a decision
about your loved one’s digital legacy.
Seek trusted, real-world advice and
deal with things such as deleting e-mail
accounts and social media profiles when
you or others involved are truly ready to
make such difficult decisions. It’s better
not to rush when emotions are raw.
If you’re at least somewhat comfortable
with the internet, do a search for things
such as how to deactivate a LinkedIn
account; not only should you find the
latest recommendations, but you will
likely stumble upon other articles or
blog posts that will help you decide how
best to proceed.
Some people find comfort in online
communities or forums where others in
similar circumstances can offer practical
advice and support.
Whether you need advice on legal
issues, help planning a memorial
service or assistance with managing
the grieving process for you or other
family members, there are countless
resources available online. The most
important thing to remember, though,
is that bereavement affects everyone
differently, and it’s crucial to take your
time and do what’s right for yourself.
Take your timeWhile there is plenty of help, support and advice to be found online, there’s no
pressure to rush into resolving your loved one’s online presence.
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As with most things, it’s
probably best not to rush
into making a decision
about your loved one’s
EnduringDespite our constantly changing digital world, some things remain the same:
A cherished keepsake; a handwritten note on the back of a yellowing photo;
soothing embraces and treasured memories.
We can make the most of the world we’re in today without losing those
essential human elements that make life so precious, so enduring.
Learn more about internet security at www.avg.com
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