what happens to our data when we croak?

The time is coming that the early adopters of all kinds of digital behaviors are passing away or are lining up for it: yahoo/google mail account owners, facebook users… What about your google mail account, your google search history when you die? Whose is it then? What law/rules apply?

In 10-20-30 years worth of email of an individual you are likely to find everything humans do: dating, making arrangements, communicating, flirting, cheating, business, private/intimate thoughts shared with friends. Children are likely to find traces of their coming to being, spouses will find the first thoughts of their deceased spouse made to a friend after their first date or even evidence of infidelity. All kinds of wonderfully terrible and terribly wonderful information will be in this data.  Whose data is it?

I am willing to predict that, say, google will create packages like “Get your mom’s Google mail on a USB stick for 5.99 a year. Optional linguistic analytics for an extra 30”. Is this morally correct? What is the proper privacy setting for your data after your are dead?

As the number of deceased users increases what will be the data retention policy? Can Google delete all emails of an individual? Will they need to get a death certificate before they can do so? If an account continues to be active after the death of its owner what happens to that account? What about all the photos people posted online? Whose are they? The phenomenon of data without a living owner will be accelerating at the same rate adoption of digital behaviors occurred.  Once it kicks in it will be massive before it stabilizes.

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