What I Said At The Knesset

On December 1st 2014 I was invited to speak at the Knesset, in a discussion held by the Public Petitions Committee regarding digital legacy and estate. You can see pics here.
Below is what I said there, you can also view it here


Let's talk for a moment about him:

This is my brother, Tal Shavit, the esteemed and well-loved car journalist
- one of the founders of the Israeli motorcycle culture.
These are pictures of him at a hearing held by the Economic Affairs Committee of the Knesset in 2009.
Tal was killed when hit by a car on March 2nd, 2011. He was 55 years and 6 months old.

Let's talk for a moment about me:

Following his death I became aware of the world of Digital Death, and ever since, for over three and a half years now, I’ve been writing about it, independently researching it, and lecturing about it. 
I am a member of two international research groups and last year I was part of an Israeli research group with Dr. Erez Cohen.
I’ve written a
guide for dealing with the digital aspects accompanying death, conducted the first Israeli survey about the subject, participated in an un-conference and an international symposium in the UK, and I wrote a paper, which was published in Finland, with Dr. Roey Tzezana.

Now Let's talk for a moment about you:

Without knowing you, I know four things about each and every one of you:

  1. There are people who love you.
  2. There are people you love,
  3. One day they will die. 
  4. And one day you will die.

It’s that simple.
When someone you love dies, you'll want to have as much as possible of what that someone leaves behind, and when you die, those who love you will want as much as possible of what you leave behind. 
It's natural and it's human.

So where's the problem?

The problem is that in the past, people would leave behind them physical things, and it was relatively easy for their loved ones to locate and access those things. There were social norms, legal precedents and laws regulating the bequeathing of such items and the access to them.  
These days, much of what people leave behind is digitalAnd suddenly, their loved ones discover that it is difficult or even impossible to locate such heritage, and even more difficult to gain access to it.
Think for a second: How many online accounts do you have?
How many online accounts does your spouse or partner have?
How many online accounts do your children have?
Without knowing you, I can answer: a lotBut still there are no social norms, no legal precedents and no legislation regulating access to such inheritance. 
This inflicts further pain on families – at a time which is already difficult.

Let's talk for a moment about almost the entire population of Israel:

Do you realize for how many people this is a relevant issue?
How many people encounter and will encounter this problem?
This effects anyone who’s had anything to do with computers, smart-phones and the internet, independent of place, background, or age group.
And it's not like I'm talking about some futuristic threat – this is already happening, and will only happen more often. 

Let's talk for a moment about Mat Beland: 

Mat was 29 years old when he died of cancer. 
Mat knew he was dying, so he took care of everything 
– except for the digital stuff: simply because he and his wife didn't think about it. 
Ashley had been with Mat for a decade and had been married to him for five years, when she found herself at 31, widowed with a small child, and locked out of all of Mat's digital accounts. 

Let's talk for a moment about Jake Anderson.

Jake was 19 years old when, almost a year ago, in December,
He was found frozen to death on a riverbank.
His parents have no idea how he got there and why, so they want to go over his phone records in order to understand what happened.
But they cannot do so, because they don't have the applicable authorizations. 
His mother, Kristi, said
“Nobody should have to face the roadblocks that we’ve had in just trying to see this stuff” 
“I’ll keep paying the phone bill until the day that we can get into it successfully”
“My main goal is to find closure”.
How would you feel if you could not look at your own kid's last communications after they’d been found dead in unclear circumstances?
Over the past few months, Jake’s parents, Bill and Kristi, have been promoting a petition calling for a statutory amendment in Minnesota, USA, (where they live).

Let's talk for a moment about Eric Rash: 

Eric was 15 years old when he committed suicide in 2011. He did not leave a note.
His death came as a total shock to his parents, Ricky and Diane. They had no idea he was under such distress. They wanted to know what had led their son to take his own life – but found themselves locked out of all of his online accounts, which might have shed light on this mystery. 
Take a moment to think about it: If, Heaven forbid, a disaster takes place, how would you feel if you found yourselves, without access to the last emails, videos, and pictures of your dearest and nearest? Without access to possible answers to the mystery of their death?
Following their own personal experience, Eric’s parents led a legislative amendment in their home state of Virginia (USA) to ensure that in future, parents in similar circumstances will be granted access to the digital accounts of deceased minors. 

And I say to you, let us not wait until the first Israeli parents deal with such complications (of the digital aspects of death), before we change the Israeli Law. There's enough pain and loss in our country as it is. Let's change the law right now.

I have no illusion or pretence regarding changing the policies of International websites, ISPs and platforms – but we definitely can, must and should effect a change where we can - in Israel

Sometimes people want access, but sometimes people need it: not just for sentimental reasons, but for practical or professional ones: what if you lost access to the online store, to the list of suppliers, to the inventory list, or to the contact details of the clients, whom you need to tell that something terrible has happened? And all because everything is managed online, and you don't have the Username and password? 
Take a moment and think: who knows your usernames and passwords? Whose passwords and usernames do you know?

Unlike the international ISPs websites and platforms which are used also by Israelis and which explicitly publish their policy regarding granting or not granting access or copies of an online account following the death of it owner - since 2012 to date, I haven't found any Israeli website, ISP or platform which makes its policy regarding such an event public. 
When I enquired – on a case by case basis – as to the policies of theMarker Café, Tapuz, 012, Nana10 (which has now been shut down), Triple C, Internet Rimon, Israblog, Walla, 013 and Bezeq International, I received a wide array of answers – anything from "show us a court order" to "we don't even need a death certificate".

It's important for me to point out that the issue here is not only regulating access or getting a copy after death: it’s also about encouraging people to make their own choices, while still alive, without relying on a policy that: A. they are unaware of because no one makes it public; and B. might change. 
People should be encouraged to manage their own digital heritage, property, estate and inheritance, while they are still alive. Let us be the ones who decide which account will be blocked and which forwarded, and to whom.

Since Tal’s death, I work both on encouraging people to manage their digital estate, and on providing information to the relatives of people who died without having taken care of it. 

Every solution must address both these fields: allowing Israelis to legally manage their digital estate by digital means, which under current Israeli law is impossible, and regulating the access to - or the grant of copies from - the deceased’s account after death, in case he or she did not settle this matter during their lifetime.

My utmost wish would be for Israel to become an "opt out" state. This means that access to his or her digital accounts will be granted to their next of kin - unless the deceased has specified otherwise
Some people care deeply about their privacy after death – by all means, let them leave instructions for closing or deleting certain accounts or even all of them. This is a legitimate request that should be honored. It should also be made known to internet users, that this is the Israeli policy, and that they should prepare accordingly. 
Additionally, people should be encouraged to take charge of these matters while they are alive. There should be more awareness. In Denmark, for example, hospitals provide official booklets listing things to think about and take care of before death, including managing your digital estate. 
In the army, upon recruiting a soldier, why not include in the personal details form also a reference to the digital estate?  And upon every new assignment in a new base, (or a new position) have the soldiers ratify their preferences or revise them.  
Imagine how much simpler this could make things.

This is a modern problem which requires modern answers, and Israel has the chance to be one of the first countries to address it in legislation. 
The death of a loved one comes with so much pain we can do nothing about. But we can at least provide those left behind with smooth and prompt access to the digital estate, heritage, assets, property and content of the deceased, so at least those won’t be lost.
By doing so, we can make it easier for the bereaved by at least saving them this additional pain.


Pictures of Tal at the Knesset were taken in October 2009 by Gilad Kavalerchik and I thank him for his kind permission to use them. 
I also wish to thank Tal Zohar and Moti Galbert for their assistance in locating these pictures. 


My heartfelt thanks to Amir Cahane for translating this text and to Eleanor Cantor for editing it. 


New Digital Death Legislation?

If you know people in France, now would be a good time to raise their awareness regarding Digital Death issues, as "France opens up Digital Republic Bill to public comment". The telecompaper reported on September 7th: 
"France’s internet bill, announced nearly three years ago and now named officially ‘the law for a digital republic’, will be put online on 21 September, inviting comments from the public. Any proposal will be considered if it obtains a certain number of ‘likes’ on Facebook... Central to the bill is the principle of net neutrality and non-discriminatory access to content and transparency... The bill has three parts, around the themes of ‘liberty’, ‘equality’ and ‘fraternity’... The second section covers internet user rights, affirming that users’ data must be freely available to them. It will write into law the right to be forgotten for all minors, which allows them to request for pictures or other material to be taken down, rather than having to give a justification, as is currently the case. The law will also detail the conditions for a so-called ‘digital death’ to allow people to write a will for their digital presence after death... The bill is due for its first reading in parliament in early 2016". 
September 21st update: It has been postponed, will keep updating. 
This is the first time I come across a "Like" competition regarding legislation, but it is a good opportunity for citizens to become involved. I don't speak French, so if any of you readers who do read it come across the relevant link, please be so kind as to send it to me (death.in.digital.era@gmail.com / Digital Dust). Fingers crossed that France will allow people to manage their own Digital Estate while they are still alive, and actively encourage them to do so. 

If you know people in California, now would be a good time to alert them to Assembly Bill 691 (can also be found here), as reported on August 29th 2015 by Santa Cruz Sentinel Business, on 'Who owns your digital afterlife?. Turns out this bill is backed by "Facebook, Yahoo, AOL and a lobby group that represents Google, Microsoft and Apple" - or in other words, it's "written by and for technology companies", and not by and for people and their grieving, bereaved families. 

I admit I had goosebumps reading this article and what Marsha Mehran's father went through following her death, regarding her digital estate. 

I was very sorry to hear that there is a chance this new bill might pass in California, sad to hear PEAC are trying to push their act instead of the one drafted by ULC so we might see this in more states, horrified to realize this has already passed in Virginia in July (in modified form) and introduced in Oregon in addition to California, and even sadder to hear ULC are not standing up to them and have revised their act, which has already passed in Delaware and introduced in 26 more states, which will now be undone. The new version can be found here

Thinking this must be very difficult and frustrating for Eric Rash's parents, Ricky and Diane, who worked so hard to change the legislation in Virginia in the past (2013) following their son's death (2011), I looked it up, and - sure enough, Ricky wrote about this in March: 
"SB1450 will serve only the providers. It will continue allowing them to deny loved ones access to a digital estate... SB1450 seems to mimic the hell we went through in 2011...SB1450 was written by and for the Internet industry, not users or customers, and it will certainly not help grieving families gather memories".
This is the link to ULC's committee, and this is the link to the actual act

The original post 

The revised post 

I feel like pulling my hair out by the roots: 
"The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act clarifies the application of federal privacy laws and gives legal effect to an account holder’s instructions for the disposition of digital assets. While the 2014 UFADAA provided fiduciaries with default access to all digital information, the revised act protects the contents of electronic communications from disclosure without the user’s consent. Fiduciaries can still access other digital assets unless prohibited by the user".
A comparison between the original act - the uniform fiduciary access to digital assets act (= original UFADAA), the privacy expections afterlife and choices act (= PEAC) and the revised uniform fiduciary access to digital assets act (= revised UFADAA) can be found here, and an interesting read about this situation can be found here: "Two groups battle it out to create uniform national rule for fiduciaries to access digital assets". 

Alessandra Malito, Investment News

At the time, when ​the technology companies and privacy lobbies objected to the UFADAA, ULC had a ready reply, and I was hoping they would stand firm against the opposition. 
Here is an interesting post by Jeffrey R. Gottlieb, a probate attorney, about the process the bill went through in Illinois in specific and the situation in general. I don't know him, but I already like him: "I won’t pretend to truly understand the Illinois legislative process (and if I did I’d probably need to shower more frequently)". He points to another interesting read about the situation by The American Bar

Turns out the bill didn't pass in any of the 26 states it was introduced in because of paid lobbyists. Why aren't the voices of bereaved families heard as well? Simply because they lack the financial means the big companies can afford? This is infuriating. 

If maintaining the wishes of the deceased are so important to you, Yahoo, AOL, Google, Microsoft and Apple, why don't you ask them directly what their wishes are? Here is my suggestion: 

Google and Facebook have some sort of an in-house solution (although not a perfect one) - Inactive Account Manager and Legacy Contact - but they don't communicate with their users about it, they just expect their users to know about this from the media. 

I am deeply troubled to read in "California introduces ‘opt-in’ digital assets bill" that Assemblyman Ian C. Calderon hopes that: “California will take the reins and be the champion for the tech industry”. I hope this bill shall not pass, and that other states will not try and copy it. Why? because there isn't enough awareness yet for people to specifically say "yes, I do wish to grant access to my heirs or kin to my digital legacy", and, without such clear and written consent, grieving family members will be locked out of the accounts of their loved ones, with enormous amounts of content of sentimental and/or financial value lost for good, or, to be more precise, for bad. 

I look forward to reading what Jim Lamm will have to say about this in Digital Passing, and here is what ​Evan Carroll (The Digital Beyondalready had to say about this. In our correspondence he too referred to PEAC as "Written by and for​​ the technology companies and privacy lobbies". 

If you'd rather go through pics than through links: 

Comparison between acts and versions, page 1 

Comparison between acts and versions, page 2

Comparison between acts and versions, page 3 

Comparison between acts and versions, page 4 

Comparison between acts and versions, page 5 

 The objection to UFADAA, page 1 
  The objection to UFADAA, page 2 
  The objection to UFADAA, page 3
 The objection to to UFADAA, page 4 

 ULC's reply to objection, page 1 
  ULC's reply to objection, page 2 
 ULC's reply to objection, page 3 


The Second Death Online Research Symposium Takes Place Next Week

Next week the second Death Online Research Symposium will take place in London and I'll take part in it. 
The book of abstracts can be found here

You can follow live updates during it by following the hashtag #DORS2 in social networks in general, or by following the Facebook page or Twitter of the symposium, or the Facebook page and Twitter of the blog (August 17th-18th 2015). 

I attended the first Death Online Research Symposium which took place in Durham in April 2014. You can find my summary of it here and here. A summary of the papers presented in it can be found here

I'm looking forward to meeting Digital Death experts from all over the world in person. The previous symposium broadened the scope for me of what 'Digital Death' is. I'm curious to see whom shall I meet and what shall I learn this time. I'll keep you posted. 


Google Updated Their Answer Regarding Accounts of Deceased Users!

I happened to click on this good, old, familiar Google link, only to find out it no longer looks like this: 

Nor like this: 

But like this: 

Google now offers us to choose one of the following: 
  • Close the account of a deceased user
  • Submit a request for funds from a deceased user's account
  • Obtain data from a deceased user's account
  • Notify Google that a user is deceased 
  • Resolve a potential hijacking of a deceased user's account
  • Make plans for what should happen to my own account 
Well done, Google! 
Now all that stands between you and me being happy with you, Google, is for you to actively notify your users about being able to manage their future inactive account, and for that service to also include the possibility of granting access or password, and not just a copy. 


A New Digital Death Video Went Online in Youtube

The good news: there is a new Digital Death video. 
The bad news: it's not entirely accurate, and do stop watching at 03:20 when it turns into a commercial :\ . 

At 02:24 he says "gmail will allow a user you designate to access your account", which isn't true, assuming he's referring to Google's Inactive Account Manager. You can't grant someone access to your account nor can you bequeath your password through this service. What you can do is allow a designated person or people to get a copy of the content of your account - in all of Google's products, not just gmail, through a link they get and can download from. But getting a copy and getting access are two different things. And the people you designate can't get access, only copy. 
If he's not referring to Google's Inactive Account Manager but to their general policy regarding accounts of deceased people, you can choose to request to "obtain data from a deceased user's account". There isn't however an option to "obtain access to a deceased user's account", so what he said remains incorrect. 

Another, although smaller mistake (at 01:26), is that Facebook does not turn a profile into a page when they memorialize it - they turn it into a memorialized profile. And, Legacy Contact feature is not yet available world wide: so far you can only use it in the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, to the best of my knowledge. 

Other than that - it's good that another video exists as it helps raise awareness to this important subject, I just wish it was also more precise in the information it was conveying. 


More Ways to Digitally Die

Digital Death has numerous, varied angles. Some of them don't even involve a person dying! 
Here are two examples: 

An article published in Gizmodo in July 2015: Capital Control Cuts Off Greek Access to iTunes, iCloud, and PayPal

"Imagine trying to buy a song on iTunes, but finding your credit card payment blocked. You can’t pay your cloud storage subscription, either, even though you have the money. Apple just won’t accept your card, and you’re about to lose most of your files".

"That’s the situation many people in Greece are waking up to this week in the wake of the country’s new capital control laws. ...the laws also prevent everyday consumers from making even the smallest credit payments to foreign companies, including Apple, PayPal, and other staples of online life".

So here is a case of death of digital content and assets - only a temporary one, we can hope? - which does not include a death of a person. When cloud storage gets shut down due to a payment being discontinued, I'm afraid data might be lost forever - including files of sentimental or financial value. And sometimes those lost files might be dear to us, or expensive.  

This reminds me of a story a manager of a company told me once in a meeting: 

"I changed my credit card and something didn't go right with the update. All the email accounts of the employees of the company were linked to that credit card, and one morning, suddenly, everybody was locked out of their emails. At first we were shocked, but then I suspected this might have something to do with the new credit card, so I manually updated the new credit card details, and the blocking was removed. Having met you, I now wonder: had I died and the credit card had expired at some point, would all the employees have been locked out of their accounts? Would someone know this was related to a credit card expiration, or how to fix it?" 
Probably not, which is why we should manage our digital content, assets, heritage and legacy. 

In July I also received the following whatsapp message on my phone: 

"A friend went into a difficult surgery. He came out of it in a bad shape and he can't recall any of his own passwords". 
I wanted to pull my hair out by the roots from frustration when I read this: if only there was a higher awareness of these issues, before going into surgery, amongst the many forms we were asked to fill, we would also have been advised to take care of our digital belongings before going into surgery, as we might suffer from a short or long term memory loss following it. Us ourselves might need this information to re-enter our own accounts. Sort of a letter from us in the present to us in the future: "Dear me, I hope you (I) won't be needing this information, but just in case, __________". 

So here is another example in which no one died (and I wish E. a full recovery!), and yet, he is locked out of his own accounts in addition to recovering from surgery. And if his recreational process won't succeed as hoped, him and his family will probably remain locked out of the various assets, legacy, content and heritage he has and could have been leaving behind. 


I Co-Wrote A Review Which Got Published In Germany

Dr. Katrin Döveling from the University of Leipzig, Germany, Anu Harju, Doctoral Candidate from the Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland, and I, co-wrote a review about the Death Online Research Symposium we attended in the UK last year: Researching Digital Memorial Culture and Death Online: Current Analysis and Future PerspectivesIt was published in a magazine in Germany last week: "Media & Age". 

The next Death Online Research Symposium will be held in London in August 2015. Registration is now open

My own (non-academic) summary of the previous symposium can be found in the following blog posts: Day One, Day Two