WORTH LEARNING: It takes more than a couple of hours to learn how to make social media work for your business.
WORTH LEARNING: It takes more than a couple of hours to learn how to make social media work for your business. Contributed

OPINION: What to do with social media accounts when you die

I RECENTLY heard from a German researcher who was focusing on understanding what happens to the one-in-10 Facebook accounts that are still active but belong to people who have since dearly departed.

It's a fascinating topic and one that will continue to confront us as our community becomes increasingly reliant on social media.

It is also a confronting topic because a lot of bad can come from social media accounts left behind.

It's attractive for criminals for a number of reasons, not least of which is the absence of the real identity who play a guardian role and can monitor activity in their name.

In a recent airline disaster, the identities of three children who died in the crash had social media accounts misused within a couple of days.

The criminals used the accounts to facilitate the execution of computer viruses on social media contacts.

What do you do about your loved one's Facebook, Gmail, Pinterest, Twitter, iTunes and many other online services we create?

You could leave user names and passwords in wills, I suppose.

You could also create accounts in digital password wallets and provide those virtual keys to the administrator of the will.

A special trust account that manages your digital identity into perpetuity perhaps?

Where does this all end?

What responsibility does each of us have to ensure that we don't leave those left behind with a digital mess involving our identity?

There is some relief on the horizon.

Services are popping up every day that are recognising the digital dilemma of the deceased.

US firm WebCease offers people in that country a service dedicated to finding a deceased person's online accounts and helps family members shut them down.

Afterwords is another US-based service that promotes actions in the digital afterlife, this time from those who are deceased.

Their service enables users to post messages to their friends and loved ones after they've departed - a form of posthumous email.

I already have nightmares of being spammed with digital to-do lists involving washing, mowing and grocery shopping.

Deadmansswitch.net takes things to another level.

This service triggers a posthumous email if your online accounts remain inactive for more than 30 days and you haven't responded to any of their validation emails to say you're still alive.

Wow! You don't want to go off the grid for too long or you may find yourself turning up to your own funeral.

There's no doubt that those left to manage our estates must consider our digital footprints.

One eye should be on making the journey for those left behind as painless as possible in unraveling our digital accounts, the other on protecting ourselves from being digitally stolen when we're gone.

It can have huge ramifications for our estate and those left behind to manage it if we don't get it right.

Dr David Lacey is a Senior Research Fellow within the Centre for Human Factors & Sociotechnical Systems at the University of the Sunshine Coast. He is also a Board Member of iDcare, Australia and New Zealand's national identity support service.

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