What happens to data on the web after someone dies?

By Maria Eduarda Melo.

Thinking about death is something that most people prefer to avoid. Let's face it, it's not exactly the most exciting topic for a conversation over coffee. However, just as we plan the destination of material goods after leaving this world, in order to minimize possible setbacks for those who remain, Including our precious digital data in this equation should be the new normal. After all, in the face of a hyperconnected era, bits and bytes are increasingly worth gold.

In 2020, for example, a man in the US had to fight Apple for months just to recover his murdered wife's family photos. Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, emails and digital bank accounts.

These and other fragments of our online lives continue to exist, so it is essential to think about what will happen to them. Although this is a delicate issue, without clear legal guidelines, it is possible to put some actions into practice.

The fact is that most social media platforms allow you to close the deceased person's account, but whether the data actually disappears is still an open question. Information collection is often defined in terms and conditions agreements. When a person dies, many big tech companies continue to own their personal data and may even pass them on to third parties.

For example, Google does not have mechanisms to determine whether specific information belongs to a deceased person. Therefore, you can keep this data for an indefinite period. Even if someone asks the organization to delete them, they may still exist on their backup servers. This also goes for other social media platforms.

Data of deceased peopleIncluding our precious digital data before death should be the new normal.

Problems may also arise with purchased data. Once again, the legal system has failed to keep up with technological advances, which creates a gray area when it comes to information postmortem.

To exemplify this context, it is not easy, for example, to transfer ownership of “goods” that you do not own. Even if the user legally downloads data created by someone else, they technically do not own it, they just have the license to use it. This license expires on death, so relatives can no longer claim ownership.

How to avoid problems with data from deceased people?

Given all this scenario, it is worth preparing in advance. Otherwise, large companies may keep your data as their property and other important people will have difficulty recovering it. Therefore, I highlight seven tips to avoid confrontations:

  1. Use Google's Inactive Account Manager: This feature notifies someone when their account has been inactive for a certain period of time;
  2. Include digital property in your will: Additionally, appoint an executor who will ensure that your will is carried out;
  3. Leave your passwords with people you trust: this way, they will be able to close accounts or recover precious data. But do not write them in the will so that they do not become publicly visible;
  4. Before sharing, reflect: think carefully about everything you share with social networks and digital platforms;
  5. Name a “legacy contact” on Facebook: this way, it is possible to determine who can manage the account after your death;
  6. Invest in a crypto manager: If there is data that you really don't want to share with anyone, encrypting it with a file encryption manager is the way to go. This way, no person will be able to decipher them without your permission;
  7. Avoid keep confidential information on third-party platforms (social networks, Google cloud services, etc.): most can monitor and collect your data.

Did you like the content? Keep an eye here on TecMundo to stay up to date on technology and the market. If you wish, take the opportunity to read about thenorme leak that revealed more than 26 billion pieces of data on the internet. To the next!


Maria Eduarda Melo is Country Manager at NordVPN, a company specialized in privacy, security and virtual private network (VPN) solutions.

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