What Happens When The Company Backing Up Your Passwords In The Event of Your Death Itself Dies?

from the you'll-miss-me-when-I'm-gone dept

The unprecedented public outpouring of grief in the technical community at the death of Steve Jobs seems to go well beyond the fact that he was an undeniably important and powerful figure in that world for several decades. Perhaps it’s because the people involved in technology are disproportionately young compared to most other industries: death often seems very far away at that age. The demise of the charismatic Jobs comes as brutal reminder that even leaders of the most successful companies must, one day, die. And hence, by implication, that we too will die.

Alongside the many issues and problems that death raises in the physical world, there are also new ones in the online sphere. For example: what happens to your digital presence – social networking accounts, email etc. – when you die? Who will have the passwords that will allow them to access your online spaces in the same way that spare keys given to relatives and friends will unlock your home?

That’s the question that a new service called PassMyWill.com – one of a number in this field – hopes to answer:

On the site you create an account with your name and enter who your next of kin is and their email address. You also enter an encryption key that the recipient would know (i.e. the last four digits of your social security number). And then you enter the data, passwords and more that you want your next of kin to takeover once you pass. When you die, this information will be passed on to the recipient.

One intriguing issue is determining when you have passed on:

So how does PassMyWill figure out when you are actually dead? You connect your Facebook and Twitter accounts on the site, and the startup will monitor how often you are posting and what is being posted on your wall. Once PassMyWill is convinced you may be gone, your next of kin receives the ‘Dead Man?s Switch’ e-mail.

False positives could be a problem here, but there’s a more serious issue: what happens if the company offering this kind of backup service itself closes? After all, startups are even more mortal than humans.

These and related questions are going to become ever-more pressing as the population of computer users ages, and more of them die, leaving their digital selves trapped in a strange, modern kind of limbo. Now might be a good time to start thinking about how to solve these novel problems ? while we are still alive.

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Comments on “What Happens When The Company Backing Up Your Passwords In The Event of Your Death Itself Dies?”

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17 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

This is what I’d do as well. Since I keep my keepass in limited form (the database is stored on USB sticks and only inserted to my computer when in use) there’s not much of a risk of someone being able to gain access if they get a hold of my will.

Good old “something you have” + “something you know” security.

Anonymous Coward says:

Duh. Send an encrypted file to someone you trust and tell them not to open it until you die. Keep it updated. Of course, if they die first, pick someone else and send the file to them. Assuming that your trust is well placed, problem solved. I did this years ago. It would sure beat trusting some company (made of people) you don’t know who don’t even know you well enough to know when you’re dead!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You can give any company lawyer or whomever a copy of your secret life encrypted and lockdown the key to open it with another person.

That way you can send multiple copies and have redundancy., you can even give one copy to your wife, another to your mother, another, to your brother and make them all few that you trust them LoL

RIch Kulawiec (profile) says:

This service is fundamentally broken...

…because they claim to be able send the passwords by email.

Everyone knows that email is based on an underlying best-effort protocol. Delivery is never guaranteed. And given the pervasive incompetence of postmasters nearly everywhere, it is extremely foolish to even consider email as a reliable delivery medium.

JustSomeGuy says:

What happens if, like me, you tested Facebook and Twitter and found them to be utter crap, full of angst-ridden teenagers who don’t know when it’s better to keep their mouths shut and who wouldn’t recognise a true friend if they bit them on the rear end? And then left behind both services for the cesspools they are.

Anonymous Coward says:

I keep a zippered leather planner which lists all my accounts and passwords (and other related data) alphabetically, and I have that stored securely in my Go Bag. I use it regularly as a memory aid and if there is an emergency, I will be able to recover from catastrophic equipment loss if I have it with me.
My instructions to my executors, which I keep in a notebook, tell how to find the planner and what to do with my accounts after my passing.
The will tells them who gets what. The notebook tells them how to sort it all out. The planner gives them access to do what they need to do.
The only inconvenience would be making a copy of the planner and sending it to a trusted relative on a regular schedule, as a backup in case of devastating fire.

Ben (user link) says:

I can’t think of a single reason why I would want someone to have access to my Facebook account when I die:

To notify everyone on my friends list that I’m dead? People can see that anyway.

So that they can check out every private social interaction I made throughout my life? No.

So that they can post a status pretending to be me saying “I’m dead” or something? No.

teka (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think this might also be for the accumulated digital cruft.

your Ebay password so they can shut down your storefront and easily close the account. Your paypal password to zero that account in whichever way is needed, things like that.

All the examples i can think of could probably been done with a letter from a lawyer, but that might be pricey as the estate is being worked out?

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