Do you die online?

Death is a dreary topic and most of us refrain from talking about it. But have you ever wondered what may happen to your online life if you die? What happens to your social networking profiles and mail accounts when your real life ends?
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Updated on Jan 25, 2011 03:10 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByAditi Pant, New Delhi

Death is a dreary topic and most of us refrain from talking about it. But have you ever wondered what may happen to your online life if you die? To the countless pictures you have stored on the Facebook account? Or the priceless videos you may have uploaded and shared on Youtube? What will happen to the blogs that contain many precious personal stories and have many others attached to it? Or the Gmail account where you may have stored important mails and documents?

So, what happens to this profile and who gets access to it and what does he/she do with it? These questions are increasingly gaining strength because of the vast data that we have begun storing online.

Digital inheritance

Through social networking sites we share our personal and professional lives that may deserve an after-life. But who decides their fate? Who gets access to the password of our accounts? Will the profile be deleted or will it continue to show? Or will it become an online memorial for the deceased?

Sensing a need for provision of digital inheritance, some websites in the US have come up with a new service that is worth considering. “Some social networking sites have added death policies. But the processes are radically different from site to site, and they take a one-size-fits-all approach. Ideally websites should allow users to specify their wishes ahead of time, perhaps in their account settings, instead of taking a singular approach,” says Evan Carroll, co-owner of The Digital Beyond, a website giving information on digital estate services in the US.

“I would like my profile to be memorialised once I’m gone so that my friends and family can remember me through it,” says Ritika

Rana, an assistant manager with Nestle and a social networking junkie.

The India story

Digital inheritance is a nascent concept that does not have any legal teeth in India yet. “With the booming of social media in India, there is an urgent need to regulate laws on digital inheritance. Even though family of the deceased can go to court and get a succession certificate, all that takes a year, but by then the information may have been deleted,” says Supreme Court lawyer and cyber law expert Pavan Duggal.

Protecting your digital profile

The idea of having a digital manager to help you handle all your digital belongings is fast gaining popularity in the US. The law, though is silent on the issue of devolution of digital assets. “The cyber laws of the country are silent on the issue of digital legacy and digital insurance. There is no common repository where a legal heir can be appointed. There are serious lacunae in the IT laws that need to be amended,” says Duggal. For a generation like ours that has grown up in the internet era, and tweets and wall posts are our daily way of communication, digital inheritance holds relevance and is poised to gain more ground in future.

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