Africa: Digital Demise – What Happens to Your Online Self Once You Die?

Wiping every trace of yourself from the digital ether after you die is hardly straightforward; instead, it’s a project that might better be suited to the indefinite time you have before expiration.

I sent a group email the other day which included an address I shamelessly scraped off a cc’d list. I got a reply unlike any I’d seen before. The recipient, who I did not know, had died, and an automatic reply set up by a colleague informed me so; my cheery spam email suddenly got real.

Which then made me think: what happens to your email when you die, if you don’t have a kind colleague or family member who knows your password? How long would they keep your account going before closing it, and then, how could they?

My email, which is the de facto filing cabinet of my life, might also contain some useful information. Its contents are a matter of record, some of which involve receipts and details that might impact upon the responsibilities of my executor. Do “my” emails even belong to me, or to Google? And who is allowed to access them?

Estelle McGinley, a social worker in Limerick, Ireland, deals with these…

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