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Digital Death Day

Dear Internet,

Today I met with my supervisor. Since leaving the meeting, my mind has been consumed by thoughts of death. Is this a normal response? I’m fairly upbeat about it, in a morbid kind of way. Actually, I’m beginning to find the whole thing fascinating.

Love, Ben.

No, really 🙂

In today’s meeting for the Virtual Safe project, I talked about reasons why one category of documents (wills) have more technical challenges to online storage, when compared to the others (identity and ownership documents). The contents are very private, and often quite sensitive while the owner is still alive. Other people need to know about them, or at least where to find them, or the will has no value at all. And it’s essential to prove that a will isn’t just legally valid: it must also be the most recent version of the document.

I also talked about a specialist “data inheritance” company, appropriately named DataInherit. They’re run by a Swiss company that handles secure storage for the banking industry, and they have some very interesting procedures in place for making sure that people you trust can gain access to your data, in a way you have specified, after you’re gone.

Since then, I’ve discovered a huge number of services catering to those who worry about what happens to their digital possessions after they’re dead. Electronic memorials. Online storage of wills and documents that will be passed on to survivors. Posthumous email services. (“Dear friend, I bring you some good and bad news…”)

So many people have started looking at this over the past 18 months, in fact, that they organised a meeting to talk about digital assets and property rights. They called it Digital Death Day.

The Digital Beyond are a good source of news about the archival, cultural, legal and technical issues that we’re wrestling with here. They also have a list of some of the services already existing out there.

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