Can you take care of your “digital assets” before you die?


What happens to your “digital assets” if we are gone?

You have probably decided who gets a house or that heirloom up of the family in the attic if you die. But what happens with your online dating account and all photos stored online?

Relatives grieving might want an access for some sentimental reasons, or settle the financial issues. But do you really want your mother reading your exchanges on your profile on mobile dating websites or your spouse going through each e-mail?

The members of The Uniform Law Commission are appointed by the state governments to assist standardize state laws. On Wednesday they endorsed a plan, which would give loved ones an access to — but not a control of — the digital accounts of deceased, otherwise unless specified in a will.

“This is something that most people do not think of until they’re faced with it. They have any idea what’s about to be lost,” Karen Williams of Beaverton, Ore said. She sued Facebook for the access to account of her 22 year old son Loren after he died in a motorcycle accident.

The issue of what to do with your “digital assets” is very big. The online videos, photos and musings of a person — such as popular cooking blogs or gaming avatars that have acquired a particular status — can be worth significant value to an estate. Just imagine the digital files trove for someone of popular or historical note — say musician Bob Dylan or former President Bill Clinton — and what these files might worth at auction.

But privacy activists say skeptical of this proposal. An associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, Ginger McCall, said an approval of judge should be needed for access, in order to protect the privacy of the accounts’ owners and the persons who communicate with them.

A lot of people assume that they are able to decide on what happens by sharing passwords with trusted family members, or even making the password part of their will. In addition to potentially exposing password when a will becomes public record, anti-hacking laws and most companies’ “terms of service” agreements forbit anyone from accessing the account that is not theirs. That means loved ones are prohibited technically from logging onto an account of dead person.

Some tech providers have come up with their solutions. For example, Facebook will “memorialize” accounts and allowing already confirmed circle of friends to continue viewing old posts and photos. Google that runs Gmail, Picasa Web Albums and YouTube, offers its version: If people do not log on after a while, the accounts can be shared with a designated person or deleted.

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