Who should control your data after you pass away? – You, People you trust or Facebook?

Almost 2 people die every second – that’s around 150K deaths every single day. That’s quite a lot, isn’t it? (http://www.wholesomewords.org/missions/greatc.html)

In January this year, Facebook had around 1.06 billion users – if you do the maths, it’s around 1 in every 8 – assuming world population around 8 billion.

If you combine both stats, out of 150K people who die every day, around 16K people have facebook profile. Yes, that’s right more than 10K people on facebook die everyday.

What happens to these profiles – facebook profiles of deceased. Most of them remain active and some are converted into memorial pages by facebook. Creating memorial is a good option – but this may or may not be what a user would have liked (Given a chance) and this may or may not be what people close to user would like.

Take the case of Juliana who died in May last year because of complications during a surgery. Her mother, professor of sociology campaigned for months to remove her memorial page. She eventually took legal route and court gave an order that page should be shut down – on 10’Th April this year.

That’s a fight of 11 months – you can read her story on BBC at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-22286569.

How many people would want to and can fight like her? Just imagine – would you want people close to you fight like this for you? No, I wouldn’t want them to go through this pain.

In my opinion, user should be able to control / specify what should happen to their profile after they pass away. User should be able to transfer their accounts to people they trust and leave instructions for them on what should be done.

Organisations (Google, Facebook etc) should not be in control of your data – you should be. . What do you think?

Inactivity Account Manager – Good but not enough..

Finally, google has understood the importance of transferring digital identities and accounts – it’s a good move by Google. Well Done! I hope other companies will start following the trend now.

Services like this are a step in the right direction, however it’s impact on our digital life is not massive, because our lives are scattered all over the cyber ether. We use many online services and products besides owned by Google.

If I reflect on my online activities, Google is a small part of that. I am present in

  • Social networks

  • Professional networks

  • Blogging communities

I share my thoughts and pictures on blogs and micro blogging platforms. I purchase online and have e-wallet on many websites. I have virtual goods and virtual money which can be converted into physical money easily.  I trade online and have online trading and banking accounts.

Google is big, important and touches many parts of our lives – However it is not the only thing of our digital life. PlannedDeparture solves this problem for your *digital assets* – not just the assets owned by Google.

In short www.plannedDeparture.com helps make lives of people users leave behind a bit more comfortable by providing finer control over who gets whatfrom the digital or physical world of user – not just from Google and not everything – just the relevant, decided by you – the user.

Digital Photographs – What happens to them after death?

I love looking at old pictures. Pictures from my childhood, pictures from my parent’s marriage, portraits of my grand-parents and college days of my uncle and aunts – everything. These pictures are probably the strongest connection I have with my …

Picture_roll

I love looking at old pictures. Pictures from my childhood, pictures from my parent’s marriage, portraits of my grand-parents and college days of my uncle and aunts – everything. These pictures are probably the strongest connection I have with my past. It’s difficult to explain why, but I can spend hours looking at those pictures and talk about pictures from my childhood, school functions, family functions or a trip with family or friends. I guess value of these photographs increases with time. Some of these photographs have become extremely precious to me because of people or stories involved with those pictures.

Till few years back, all these photographs were stored in the physical format in my trunk. A photo album and negative camera roll stored in the trunk was easy to find, inherit and cherish. It was easy, but risky. It was (and still it) risky because fire, flood, theft, earthquake, moisture or an angry kid could ruin it all. So because of the fear of loosing these photographs, I started converting them from physical to digital format. From a trunk sitting in the corner of my old house, these photographs in digital format were at all over the places. They were on my hard-disk, compact disk and on cloud based services such as Flickr, Picasa, photobucket and so on. Pictures stored on these services are permanent, there is no accidental damages and can be shared easily with friends and family. All good, isn’t it?

Well almost, unfortunately it is a bit more riskier in one crucial aspect. One of the main problem with these services is – how do people inherit photographs stored in these services if something happens to me? Accounts in these services cannot be accessed by anyone else so what happens to these photographs if I pass away suddenly? I have shared my account details with my wife – but deep in my heart I know how uncertain life is. It is very much possible to loose all the photographs. Is this risk worth taking? Noep, isn’t it?  

I wanted to ensure that these photographs are not lost and my next generation and their next generation have access to these photographs. It might help them understand their roots, family values, custom and culture. 

When we started Planned Departure, this was one of the problem we wanted to solve. Planned Departure is an electronic vault to store digital assets or information in the digital format. For every digital asset, it allows users to specify beneficiaries for that particular digital asset. 

I am at peace now – I have stored few photographs as digital assets and assigned them to my friends and families. Not only that, I have stored my account details and specified few close people as beneficiaries for that information. I know if something happens to me, this information will be in the right hand and my photographs will not be lost in the cloud.

 

Recover unclaimed assets in USA

Lack of awareness is the main reason for continuously increasing unclaimed assets around the world. Before we explore various ways to recover these assets in USA, let us discuss what is unclaimed assets and how does it work in USA. Please note thi…

Lack of awareness is the main reason for continuously increasing unclaimed assets around the world. Before we explore various ways to recover these assets in USA, let us discuss what is unclaimed assets and how does it work in USA. Please note this article and information present on this is mostly related to USA – many countries do not have any legislation in place to deal with this issue and unclaimed assets usually remain with the organizations in such cases.

According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrator which represent state government and actively tries to find right owners for various assets – 

Unclaimed property (sometimes referred to as abandoned) refers to accounts in financial institutions and companies that have had no activity generated or contact with the owner for one year or a longer period. Common forms of unclaimed property include savings or checking accounts, stocks, uncashed dividends or payroll checks, refunds, traveler’s checks, trust distributions, unredeemed money orders or gift certificates (in some states), insurance payments or refunds and life insurance policies, annuities, certificates of deposit, customer overpayments, utility security deposits, mineral royalty payments, and contents of safe deposit boxes.

When it is not possible for any organization to find right owner for any assets it owns – it is their responsibility to hand over those assets to the state government. At least in USA and UK, organizations are required to disclose any unclaimed property by law.

Unfortunately, this issue is much more complex then it appears. Definition of what can constitute unclaimed assets is different from state to state. Also there are so many other types of assets which are not covered by many state laws. Virtual money, virtual goods, credits, iTunes accounts, PayPal, AdSense and many other accounts could be worth as much as physical accounts. In many cases, organizations are allowed to keep these unclaimed assets and use it in their bottom line.

If you want to get an idea of the scale – have a look at this declaration from treasury on unclaimed money with many US government agencies.

In US, it is possible to search state database or use service like Missing Money to find out if there is any unclaimed money or property in your name. These services are free and can be used by anyone. Since it is a huge market, there are many organizations that can perform these searches on your behalf and will charge fees in the form of commission if they find something.

Many people are using these services to take ownership of the assets which were unclaimed for long time. Still there are billions of dollars in unclaimed assets, because people do not have information about assets and ways to claim them. These services are useful but unfortunately not every country has resources or willingness to implement such services. 

These services in US are trying to find the right owner for the unclaimed assets, we on the other hand are trying to reduce the unclaimed assets by ensuring that key information, digital assets and online identities are transferred to right people after death.

Digital death day conference 2010 in London – Summary

Yesterday we were at digital death day (Un)conference in London and had great time discussing various issues related to death and digital death. It was nice to see so many people discussing the idea of death and problems of death in digital age. W…

Yesterday we were at digital death day (Un)conference in London and had great time discussing various issues related to death and digital death. It was nice to see so many people discussing the idea of death and problems of death in digital age. We hosted a session on planned departure and how it can be used to transfer key information about life and online identities to designated beneficiaries after death.

First session we participated in was related to the historical roots of digital death. We had nice discussion on what is technology? Is it a concept, practice or a choice? Discussion soon moved to how technology has evolved and how it has changed our life in every stage. From romance on the telegraph lines to women’s reservation to use telephone at home and error messages which eventually became SMS in mobile phone – one factor which made all of these successful was communication. Telegraph, telephone, computers and many other gadgets were developed for business, but when people realised that they could be used for communication, they became extremely popular and successful.

One concept related to death which has stood the test of time is obituaries. Obituaries are considered as formal notification of death and have been around for little over 300 years now. We had discussion around how obituaries are different in physical newspaper and online world. We also had discussion on how truthful and honest obituaries can be? Is there any possibility of conflicts in the obituaries?

At planned departure, we were of the opinion that content of obituary and who controls conflict should be decided by the person for whom obituary is written. At planned departure user can setup their own obituaries and specify who should moderate tributes paid on these obituaries

Few more interesting concepts we discussed were around death photography which was very popular during the early days of photography where portraits of death people were taken in life like forms. We also discussed few interesting projects like digital remains, temple of burning man and scan memory on the lines of how much people want to preserve and transfer their memories and how much it is common in different parts of the world.

We also had a discussion on the rising trend of people converting remains of their loved ones into artefacts like pencils, colours and even precious stone. It was interesting to know that people are even using digital tattoos as a way to remember their loved ones.  

Next session was ours and we discussed complexities of digital life, how much information we  have and how much of it could be useful for people we leave behind. We had discussion around planned departure which is all covered in our features section so I wont repeat that discussion here. During this session,  Darren, who is managing director of Impact360 gave us some numbers which shows how important it is to transfer information after death.  It seems MS has around 500 million USD of cheques which were sent as dividend. It is with MS because they do not know who should take it. If its 500 million USD with Microsoft alone, how much is around the whole world, in shares, unclaimed insurance, pre-paid funerals and so on?

Next session was around the concept of everything forever – which is digitizing your every data and keep it forever. I was not sure about the usefulness of this concept, but then got to know about a project called My Life Bits from Microsoft research. In the same session we had discussion on the concept of virtual donation – which is donating digital identity to researchers like how people do with their physical bodies. Another interesting discussion we had in this session was around the topic of network of dead people in our network. 

One last session, was on the topic of devising a language to communicate the concept of digital death and unfortunately we missed it because of our schedule 😦 Hope it will be covered by fellow bloggers though. 

Overall it was a really nice experience and very relevant to our current time. With continuously increasing dependency on digital life – we need to increase awareness of this concept and help people in transferring their digital information after death. My sincere thanks to Kaliya and Stacey for organizing this and increasing awareness about the topic of digital death.

 

Planned Departure – Information and online identity after death.

Welcome to the Planned Departure. Our lives have changed drastically in past few years. From a relatively simple life of maintaining few accounts in our paper files to investments and accounts in many online services, we have come a long way. Pers…

Welcome to the Planned Departure. Our lives have changed drastically in past few years. From a relatively simple life of maintaining few accounts in our paper files to investments and accounts in many online services, we have come a long way. Personal communication is now replaced with email and phone conversation. From basic accounts like phone, electricity and water to complex accounts for spread batting or share trading, we have an online identity. We probably meet couple of people on a day to day basis, but communicate with hundreds of friends on facebook, twitter, orkut or other social network.

Traditional ways of networking in business is replaced by Linked-In and running business means probably using many online services like SalesForce. For many people, their PayPal and eBay accounts are probably more valuable than their physical account in the bank. On the same lines, ownership of intangible assets like a domain name is probably worth much more than Gold.

In many cases, our online identity and information we keep in our mind is as valuable as our physical existence. There is so much reliance on the online activities, but unfortunately what happens to all of this after our death is not known. This information and all these accounts can become inaccessible or worst abused if they are in wrong hand. 

Rise of nuclear families and online activities and lack of clearly defined ownership and transferability of online accounts has resulted in a massive unclaimed assets for banks and governments. It has also caused distressed to many families where these online accounts became inaccessible or abused after sudden death of someone.

At planned departure, we will try to increase awareness about managing information and online identity after death.