Death and Divorce in a Digital Age

February 27, 2007

Online life these days seems predicated on the advantages of the knowledge economy, the value of knowledge management and the assumption that social networking and sharing is a great idea. Ellybabes has a very interesting post (and accompanying PowerPoint presentation) on Death and Divorce in the Digital World. In which she says:

In this new technological age, we are only beginning to notice some recently emerging issues caused by deaths and divorces amongst both geek and non-geek couples and singles.
Nearly everyone these days has large amounts of personal information stored online, whether this is their own websites and complex businesses down to simply e-mail and internet banking at the lower end of the spectrum.
In previous days, when a loved one died it was simply a case of notifying the relevant businesses (banking, service companies, etc) and details of savings and other important possessions were most often held with a solicitor or detailed in the person’s will.

She’s asking some interesting questions about the difficulties presented by having so much of our lives online. In the case of death accessing password protected files and accounts can be hugely problematic. Adversarial separations can sometimes result in compromising material being published in cyberspace as an act of revenge.
Ellybabes gives a snapshot of the kinds of digital information that may need to be managed in the event of a separation (of either kind) and they include:

Shared e-mail accounts
Online calendars
Online subscriptions
Expensive PC’s and Display Screens
VOIP numbers
HTPC recordings / VOD accounts
Online DVD rental accounts
Blogs – Advertising revenue
Digital Photographs
Gaming Console profiles (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii)
Intellectual Property

I’m quaintly old fashioned in that I keep passwords for online accounts etc in hard copy format (remember those quaint things called notebooks!). But I haven’t seen too many articles and blog posts on the difficulties presented by so much private activity now taking place in encrypted environments. I’m wondering what provisions you have made in the event of an untimely ending?

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