We run across them accidentally at times, on Facebook or Twitter, and sometimes we go looking for them. Perhaps a difficult anniversary comes around and you look up the page of a loved one who has passed on, leaving only their digital afterlife as a lingering, silent memory.
These are ”Internet ghosts” and yes, they’re everywhere. These “dead” accounts persist, containing sometimes vital and very personal information. One large retailer invites customers to manage everything in their online space; from photos to prescriptions to gift card balances. Without even realizing it, users contribute other personal information when they click on favorites, enter recipes, create wish lists, and add the most concerning online details of all...saved payment methods.
Internet ghosts account for a greater and greater percentage of unused space on a vast array of servers, and the discussions do take place regarding how, or even whether, to clean up the server space containing these unused accounts.
Another more intriguing topic has also come to the fore: Could such data hold value for the heirs of account holders? Could you somehow link your pins and favorites to your Ancestry.com account and leave an entire mosaic for your descendants instead of a faded photograph? What might be gleaned from having access to your great-great-grandmother’s prescription history?
Determining a sure-fire way to “inherit” an online account is a conversation that’s just getting started, and one which may or may not be worth having. The potential for identity theft only increases with the potential for inheriting rather than deleting your wide variety of digital presences.
One very manageable function is the potential to wipe out the accounts of a loved one after their passing. A systematic approach could even allow a selection process that leaves the decedent’s literary and artistic online presence untouched while erasing accounts that contain fiscal or medical records.
One thing is sure. If you’re reading this on this Internet, your digital life has already begun.