How to Manage Your Digital Afterlife

Recently, I was trolling through my Facebook feed and saw that the wife of a friend had taken over his account. She had some bad news.

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen this happen. Spouses or significant others or family members secure the user name and password of a loved one after a terrible accident or, worse, following their death, and find some careful way to break unimaginable news. Inevitably, a few years after Facebook’s founding, the company was forced to establish policies that would enable a user’s loved one to deactivate an account so their friends and family wouldn’t have to see annual reminders about birthdays or anniversaries pop up in news feeds.

Recently Google announced a new service to manage your digital afterlife that enables its users to leave an advanced directive as to the disposal of things like email archives, Picasa photos and Drive documents.  For example, according to Google you can now choose to have your data deleted after three, six, nine or 12 months of inactivity. Or you can select trusted contacts to receive data from some or all of Google’s range of services: Blogger; Contacts; Drive; Gmail; Google+ Profiles, Pages and Streams; Picasa Web Albums; Google Voice; and YouTube.

Before Google’s systems take any action on your advanced directives, they promise they’ll first warn you by sending a text message to your cellphone and email to the secondary address you’ve provided. No response from you means… well…

Another way in which people may want to think about planning is by building something like a digital monument. Whereas in the past folks worried about the headstone over the their last resting place and what epitaph might inscribed upon it, today people may want to consider what sort of digital epitaph they leave behind for future generations to ponder.

It could be a personal website or blog. Or maybe a YouTube channel with all the video moments of your life. Or perhaps an online portfolio of many different digital artifacts including photos, video, audio, documents – really, all the analog things that might have gone into that cedar chest stored in your grandparents’ attic, but are all now in digital form. Building, maintaining and updating such sites is one thing, but also passing the keys to those sites – user names, passwords, payment instructions – is also an important consideration.

No one wants or likes to plan for one’s own death. But as recent events in Boston and West, Texas so vividly illustrated, life is precious. And ultimately short. But data goes on forever. So planning for how you want your digital footprint either preserved or disposed of is important.

Do something about that stuff now. And then get on with living.

FIVE THôT columnist DEREK GORDON is a marketing and sales exec with more than 20 years success in integrated marketing and sales strategy and management. He is the Chief Marketing and Sales Officer for Pathbrite.

Afterlife image courtesy of Shutterstock

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