Get ‘porn buddy’ to clean up your digital debris when you die

Admittedly, it’s not a pleasant thought, but have you ever wondered what happens to your Facebook page, or Twitter or LinkedIn accounts when you die?

If you’re in the dark, perhaps you should designate a digital executor or “porn buddy” to help you tie up loose ends in the virtual world when you finally depart this one, says a Canadian social media expert.

Our digital detritus will most likely survive us, noted Adele McAlear, principal of McAlear Marketing, a Montreal-based marketing firm.

A porn buddy, she explained, is a person whom you entrust with the location and passwords of online accounts which you would rather keep secret from your family. In the event of your demise, this person can close down those accounts to prevent your family from learning about them.

McAlear said our digital trail would likely have far reaching consequences on the lives of our loved ones, or the operations of businesses and organizations we were affiliated with.

Tips and free online death notification sites

McAlear was speaking at the recent Mesh U conference in Toronto. Her presentation was titled Death and Digital Legacy.

When you’re gone

“Social sites, blog sites and e-mail services have different policies on how an account is handled after the user’s death,” the marketing consultant noted.

“In some cases, if arrangements weren’t made even relatives are barred from an account,” she told ITBusiness.ca.

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McAlear cited the case of Mac Toonies, an author, essayist and blogger from Kansas City who has a large online following.

When Toonies suddenly died of a heart attack last year, his family had no inkling of the large online life he had cultivated.

“All of a sudden, Mac’s parents were getting requests from people to provide them with passwords to his online accounts because they didn’t want his writings to be lost,” McAlear said.

Most paid online accounts are tied to a credit card. When a person dies, the credit card company deactivates their card. When sites are no longer able to draw funds from a card, the online account is cancelled.

Unfortunately, McAlear said, Toonies did not leave any passwords behind, and his immediate family members weren’t as tech-savvy as him and could offer little help.

Some of Toonies’ readers were able to salvage a portion of data stored on the writer’s computer hard drive.

Another reader volunteered for the task of manually copying six years worth of Toonies’ writings online before the account was closed. Other readers opened up sites and blogs dedicated to the writer.

Thus Toonies’ digital legacy was saved.

Failure to leave behind passwords to your online accounts can also deny loved ones financial assistance that they otherwise might have received.

“If you have a site generating some form of income from ad placements or donations, those funds could be frozen or lost forever when your family needs them most,” McAlear said.

Worse still, if a hacker gets into your neglected account that person could assume your identity and siphon the money out.

Executive decision

Corrine Schmid, corporate director for product marketing at Open Text, shared her thoughts on how this could play out in the corporate world.

“The trend today is to ask executives to blog, create customer-facing Facebook pages, or interact with online communities on LinkedIn or Twitter,” Schmid noted.

“What does a company do when that executive leaves or dies?”

She noted that the person’s Twitter conversations could contain valuable company information.

It’s also quite possible a Facebook page tied to an executive — but being used for corporate visibility — could be left open indefinitely, she said.

The page could then be used by detractors to post negative messages about the company.

“I believe companies should have clear cut policies on how employees carrying the company name into the social media space should act.”

Schmid said safeguards on winding down an account, should also be spelled out early on, perhaps during the on-boarding process.

Unfortunately, she said, not many businesses have prepared for this eventuality.

Digital executor

Ideally, McAlear said, companies should have a person or a team to monitor their online presence. “They should have an inventory of who is saying what where.”

In the event a company blogger leaves or dies, the team should be able to call upon the IT department to search on online venues where the employee may have had exposed the organization.

In the case of individuals, McAlear suggests they appoint a digital executor.

“The digital executor could work under the person’s normal executor. However the digital executor’s task would be to make sure a deceased person’s wishes regarding their digital persona are carried out.”

This may be necessary because some executors may not be familiar enough with technology or the person’s online life.

If there are online accounts that a person does not wish his family, company or other friends to know about, a “porn buddy” might be appropriate.

The term is used to refer to “someone you trust enough to share your porn stash location with. But in this case, it could also mean non-porn stuff that you just wish to keep secret,” said McAlear.

The porn buddy will be entrusted with passwords of your “more sensitive” online life and be prepared to carry out your wishes about what to do with them when you pass on.

Facebook – after your death

Facebook keeps your account open even after you die, according to McAlear.

Upon a family’s request, Facebook can memorialize profiles of deceased users.

Once a user’s death is confirmed, their profile can be turned into a sort of virtual shrine. When that happens, the profile is locked so no one can log into it, and sensitive information (including status updates) is removed.

Twitter doesn’t disclose account information or passwords to anyone, even after you die.

That means your next of kin won’t have access to your direct messages. Nor will they be able to send out a message to your followers, according to communications and media relations specialist Dan Howe.

Twitter will remove the account for you though, if requested. A family member needs to fax or post a copy of the death certificate to Twitter along with the Twitter user name of the person who died.

MySpace has no set policy when it comes to profiles of deceased users. The site handles each incident on a case-by-case basis when notified and will work with families to respect their wishes.

The site says it will not allow anyone to “assume control” of the user’s profile, but doesn’t rule out giving families access to the user’s private data.

Hotmail has a policy of deleting e-mail accounts that aren’t touched for 270 days. If you die, your next of kin would be able to access your account within that period by proving their identity and supplying a death certificate.

Gmail will also allow the deceased user’s next of kin or estate executor to apply for access to their e-mail account. The latter would have to prove their own identity and supply a death certificate, as well as proof of an e-mail conversation between them and the deceased.

When it comes to deceased users’ data, Yahoo will close the account on a request from the next of kin, but will not give them access to it.

Yahoo says users who want their e-mails to be inherited should make arrangements in their will.

Follow Nestor on Twitter, read his blogs on ITBusiness.caBlogs or find him at ITBusiness.ca’s Facebook page.Hurry before these accounts are closed down by Nestor’s porn buddy.

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