Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What Happens To Our Online Identity After We Die?

In her mid-50s, the mother of one died suddenly, and her family was left to notify the people she knew about her passing.  Many of those friends, however, had stayed in touch with the woman only via Facebook, the popular Internet social-networking website. As a result, most were unknown to the family.

“It was a difficult and awkward position for the family to be in,” said Shannon Martin, vice president of Olinger Chapel Hill Mortuary and Cemetery in Centennial, where the woman’s final arrangements were handled.
“They were trying to find her Facebook account password to let her friends know, friends in a circle they were not aware of,” Martin said. “We are so electronic nowadays, how does one even know what’s out there for a person?”
For millions, electronic media have supplanted the home address book, where names and family contacts were once stored for years — sometimes generations — and easily retrieved in a moment.
On Facebook, a deceased users account can be converted to a memorial page

But the Internet and its most-used byproduct — e-mail — have turned what was once a simple task into a chore for families already dealing with the loss of a loved one.
“There is no easy way to find out where a person spends their online life today,” said Todd Feinman, chief executive of “In today’s world, e-mail is much more attached to your identity.”
The variety of e-mail services available expands annually, and with the advent of social-networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace, the tentacles of personal connections reach even further, many of them anonymously.
Unlike the address book, however,accessing a deceased family member’s e-mail account — even if just to let others know of his or her passing — can become a daunting task that hinges on the service.
Not all providers treat the accounts of the deceased the same, each pressing one rule or another that is in part designed to protect a person’s privacy while recognizing the need for access to what may be important personal information, such as bank account numbers, experts say.
“If you die, your accounts will most likely stay active unless the site automatically deletes the account due to inactivity,” according to Jack Cola from
Most e-mail servers and websites willallow access to your personal data by the next of kin, but it’s likely they’ll require some form of proof that they’re related and that you died.
In the end, it’s to ensure personal information remains personal, especially with the threat of identity theft by the living.
The rule to protect a person’s e-mails is so strong at Yahoo that all access to a deceased person’s account is restricted, spokesman Jason Khoury said. That includes subsidiary accounts with Flickr too.

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