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A digital mausoleum?

Amazon launched a new service, Amazon Glacier, in August 2012. The Glacier offers to store, archive and back up data for a very low monthly cost: $0.01 per gigabyte.  

The storage is specifically designated to stow data that isn't accessed frequently, for which a retrieval time of several hours is suitable - just as we would put away boxes of folders for storage in a physical archive, located away from our home or office.

But what does that have to do with death in the digital era? 

When describing this service, Amazon uses the word "vault": "You use vaults to organize the archives you upload to Glacier" and phrases such as "
There is no limit to the amount of data you can store in the service" and "this data is often retained for years or decades. Amazon Glacier allows you to retain archived data for as long as desired."

What does it mean? 

On the one hand, it creates the possibility of a digital mausoleum: buy lots of storage space for cheap, upload to it anything you think our loved ones today - or generations to come - may find interesting, and take our self-commemoration one step further. It's secure, durable, simple, flexible and you pay only for what you use, making this a low cost service. The data we'll leave behind will no longer be divided among various computers and servers, between a cloud backup here and a portable hard disk backup there - it will all be centered in a single place, and our heirs will have a simpler, easier access to our digital legacy. 

On the other hand, if this really is a vault where our digital and online life are stored in multitudes, in case of a tragedy - when someone dies unexpectedly and didn't manage his digital inheritance - the loss of this legacy might be utter and complete. It won't a merely partial loss, as might happen today when only some of our legacy is stored with each of the various Internet providers (I intend to find out what is Amazon's policy in case of a death of a client and will let you know - I have - update below)

One of the difficulties we're already dealing with today is the enormous, almost endless, amount of digital and virtual assets a person leaves behind when they pass. I explain this in detail in my post After death: the difference between dealing with digital assets and other assets. If more and more people were to use the Glacier service, their heirs will find themselves dealing with an amount of digital legacy which has truly become endless - no one will ever bother to sort or delete again. We shall all become hoarders and pile, collect, gather and store more and more pictures, files, emails, movies, music, books etc., in the Glacier - is the difficulty more apparent now? 

Another point to take into consideration is the ecological implications, which CNN wrote about in an article back in 2009: Greening the Internet: How much CO2 does this article produce?"Massive buildings housing hundreds, if not thousands, of power hungry servers storing everything from Facebook photos and YouTube videos to company web sites and personal emails -- are often labeled as the worst offenders when it comes to harming the environment" (by means of electricity demands, greenhouse gas emissions and carbon emissions). 

If these days already, when a person passes away they leave behind enormous amounts of data floating in the net and around the clouds, what were to happen if all of us were to leave behind vast digital mausoleums? 

We might be nursing the illusion that what happens in the virtual, digital and online worlds stays there, but in fact it all has direct implications on our tangible world. 

Thank you Limor Schweitzer for telling me about the Glacier, and thanks Life Insurance Finder for your excellent infographic, through which I became acquainted with CNN Tech's article.  

Update December 2012: Matt Lambert, PR manager of Amazon Web Services, answered my questions regarding their policy: "We evaluate account transfer requests on a case by case basis, but generally speaking, we would require requestors to provide a copy of the death certificate and answer account security questions"..."This is the policy for Amazon Web Services. I can’t speak for other parts of the Amazon business". 
In case of a Glacier user who passed away, you can contact Amazon's customer services


After Death – the Legal Aspect

I wrote about Yahoo!'s policy on granting access to email accounts of users who passed away in the second article of a series on ynet.

I spoke to Shai Porat, lawyer and mediator, regarding a specific instance in which a case was brought against Yahoo!:
"It seems like a simple issue: because they are his parents, they would like access to the email account of their son, who was killed. As they see it, they are his benefactors, his heirs. Therefore, just as they received all his material goods, so they should receive all his digital 'goods' – like his email account. During the trial, John, the father, compared receiving access to his son's email account to getting access to his son's safe (if he had one).
"But the further we delve into this issue, the more complicated it becomes. Yahoo! is committed to its clients' privacy. Beyond that, they are committed to continue to guard the privacy of Justin, the deceased soldier – could it be that he may not have wanted his parents to have access to his mail?
"Furthermore, at least two people are involved in every mail correspondence. By exposing the mail he received, Yahoo! is exposing personal things written by other people and it's Yahoo!'s duty to continue to guard their privacy, even if one of the correspondents passed away".

Maybe Yahoo!'s commitment to guard Justin's privacy includes their commitment to guard his friends’ privacy as well?
"There is no doubt that the copyright of Justin's outgoing mail belongs to Justin, and so to his parents. But what is greater – his and/or his friends' right to privacy, or his copyright (and his parents' right to inherit) of his outgoing mail?
“Incoming mail is an even more complex issue, because the copyright of those emails belong to the sender and not the receiver – Justin only received the right to read the mail, he didn't receive the right from the senders to publish the mail he received or to forward it on, and therefore he cannot bequeath this right to his parents.
"Dealing with death in the digital age will probably require us to expand our concept of privacy. Each one of us has a private life and a right to privacy even after death. The question is, how can we realize this right when so much of our most private information is embodied in digital assets".

Another point we should pay attention to is that Yahoo! is also the owner of 'Flickr', the photo sharing site. This means that Yahoo!'s policy applies there too: in the case of death, people left behind won't have access to the pictures uploaded to the site – and the user's account will be deleted, unless the deceased left behind his user name and password. For some people this may be good news, as they have pictures on the site that they wouldn't like exposed and published without their control. Others, however, may regret that whole galleries of pictures they spent a lot of time and effort collecting and uploading will be erased”.

In May, 2011, the first will (according to the publishers) that included references to digital assets, was published in Wisconsin, USA.

Questions and answers regarding digital wills in Israel can be found in the second article on Ynet (in Hebrew).

Another aspect that came up in my conversation with Shai was how the law in Israel regards bequeathing digital assets:
"If it is a material digital asset, such as a hard drive, disk, disk-on-key, cassette, computer etc., it is considered the same as any other material asset and the law determines who it will go to if there is no will. Digital assets that are not material, such as articles you've written, programs you've developed, projects you've built on your computer, passwords and so on, are considered intellectual property and can be inherited according to a will or the law.
"This leads to an interesting discussion on different types of intellectual property: does the right to the data on the computer go together with the right to the computer itself? If you bought a program, can you bequeath it? The answer lies in the regulations of whoever sold the game or the subscription.
"If you have 'property' in virtual worlds, can you bequeath it? Here too the answer lies in the regulations of the creators of those worlds.
“If I bequeath access to my bank account to you, including passwords – does this mean that I bequeathed the money in that account to you or only that I allowed you access to it? Because allowing you access to the account hardly means bequeathing the right to the money.
"A distinction needs to be made between leaving the key to the safe and leaving the contents of the safe. Identically, a distinction needs to be made between bequeathing the computer and bequeathing the content on the computer. If I leave you the key (material asset), it doesn't mean I'm also leaving you the content (intellectual property)".

I checked the legal aspects with some sites and providers. The results can be found below.
Please let me know if you came across a policy that is either commendable or condemnable, or if you found lack of policy in a site expected to have a clear policy on this topic.

The Terms of Service of Zynga, the operator of the popular games Farmville, Cityville etc., 

paragraph 1.6 deals with Use of Service. Sub-paragraph C states, "you shall not have more than one account". That means, if you have a Zynga account and another person died and left you their account, you are in effect violating their terms of service, as you now have two accounts (more about this restriction and its consequences can be found in the full interview with gamer John 'Neverdie' Jacobs).

Sub-paragraph J states, "You shall not sublicense, rent, lease, sell, trade, gift, bequeath or otherwise transfer your Account or any Virtual Items associated with your Account to anyone without Zynga’s written permission". Meaning, you cannot bequeath your account or the digital assets within it.

Is it possible to bequeath it if you write to them ahead of time and receive their permission? I wrote to them and never received an answer, but considering the following paragraphs, the answer is probably negative:
Paragraph 1.4, dealing with granting a limited license to use the service, states: "Subject to your agreement and continuing compliance with these Terms of Service and any other relevant Zynga policies, such as the Forum Rules or Loyalty Program Terms, Zynga grants you a non-exclusive, non-transferable, revocable limited license". Non-transferable, meaning, it cannot be bequeathed.

World of Warcraft
The popular game 'World of Warcraft' is operated by Blizzard. Their Terms of Use are even more explicit and resolute than Zynga's:

Paragraph 9.2 states: "Account. NOTWITHSTANDING ANYTHING TO THE CONTRARY HEREIN, YOU ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT YOU SHALL HAVE NO OWNERSHIP OR OTHER PROPERTY INTEREST IN THE ACCOUNT, AND YOU FURTHER ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT ALL RIGHTS IN AND TO THE ACCOUNT ARE AND SHALL FOREVER BE OWNED BY AND INURE TO THE BENEFIT OF BLIZZARD. Blizzard does not recognize the transfer of Accounts. You may not purchase, sell, gift or trade any Account, or offer to purchase, sell, gift, or trade any Account, and any such attempt shall be null and void ".

They also clarify in the game's support pages that they do "not recognize the transfer of accounts between individuals". If you have a rich world of content in this game, you won't be able to bequeath it.

The Israeli companies: Tapuz, Walla!, nana10 (hotmail), TheMarker Cafe, 012 Smile, 013 Netvision, Bezeq, Isra-Blog (nana10)
I didn't find an explicit reference to death in the policy of the Tapuz site.
In paragraph 16, where it refers to Protection of Privacy, it is stated: 'having said that, you hereby agree to allow Tapuz to reveal and \ or pass on all your details and any information, including your personal information, in accordance with court ruling'. Possibly this means they are preparing themselves for a situation similar to Yahoo!'s (the story covered in the second article), where they will be compelled by court order to pass on content uploaded by a deceased user. This includes messages in forums and communes, movies uploaded to Flix and so on.
In paragraph 20, under users' affirmations and commitments, the users are required to: 'keep secret and not reveal or pass on your private passwords (including username and login password)'. I wonder if they consider this to include the event of death: if I leave my username and password in my will, so that my loved ones will have access to content I've uploaded to the site, am I violating their policy? Or is my commitment to them valid only while I'm alive?

The Terms of Use of Walla!, the Israeli email provider, do not contain an explicit reference to the event of a user's death. Chapter C, Policy for Use of Electronic Mail, states that: "you know, and agree to, Walla! being entitled, at their discretion, to close and/or erase an electronic mail account that is not in use, and which hasn't had an electronic mail item sent from it for at least three consecutive months". That means, if you discovered your deceased loved one had an account by Walla! and you would like to access it, you may find that it no longer exists, if it took you more than three months after the death to deal with it. For more details, read the story of Chaya, a bereaved mother, in the first article on Ynet. There it turned out that the site 'Hevre' had no policy of closing accounts that were no longer in use – but that Walla! did.
Further on it states that "you know, and agree, that Walla! will be entitled, at their discretion, to hand over the details of the electronic mail account they own, according to police request or court order, and that you will have no complaint against them for handing over your personal details in such circumstances". This could be their way of preparing to deal with instances of death, but I noticed that they mention only "mail account details" and don't refer to the content. But it could very well be that if you are no longer alive, you will have no complaint to make regarding the passing on of your details.

In nana10's Privacy Policy, relevant for Nana10 mail as well as for blogs on Isra-Blog, under 'Passing on information to third parties', it states: 'nana10 will not pass your private details and any information collected regarding your activity on the site (as far as these details and activities identify you personally) on to third parties, except for the circumstances detailed here… if nana10 were to receive a court order directing them to pass on your details or information about you to a third party". This could also possibly be a preparation for the possibility of a court order to hand over the account details to the family following the death of a user. I haven't found any other reference to this in either the Privacy Policy or in the Terms of Use.

In the annex dealing the Terms of Use for Ha'aretz's group of 'The Marker' sites, which includes 'TheMarker Café', I didn't find any explicit reference to the topic of death or even any relevant reference to it. Seeing as many of the site's users upload their original content to the site, I wonder what will become of this content in the event of death. I searched under Transfer, Privacy, Rights, Intellectual Property – and found nothing.

Nana10's email is based on Hotmail, so I also checked Microsoft's Services Agreement. There too there is no reference to death, rights, bequeathing etc., but under the Privacy Policy (paragraph #5) it states that: "Microsoft may access, disclose, or preserve information … including … your personal information and content, … when Microsoft forms a good faith belief that doing so is necessary (a) to comply with applicable law or to respond to legal process from competent authorities". This also seems to be laying the groundwork for court orders directing providing access to the deceased's email account. I found no reference in the Privacy Policy either.

I found no reference, even indirect, to the topic in the Terms of Use of 012 Smile, Netvision 013, Bezeq International or Isra-Blog.  

I contacted each of these internet providers, hand-picked their policies (which indeed aren't published online anywhere), and published it in a post titled "The Israeli angle of Digital Death".

Thank you Rachel (Berman) Madar for translating this post from Hebrew to English. 

Interviews with me in the UK (including for the BBC)

In October I attended "Digital Death Day" in London. 

During it, I was interviewed both by Debbie Davies from the "Centre for Creative Collaboration", where the unconference was being held - you can see it here

And by Kate Bissell from BBC's Radio 4 for their documentary radio programme "Digital Human"

Following this interview, Kate was interested enough to schedule a full length interview with me, held over the phone, in a studio 

Excerpts from this interview were part of the 7th programme of the 2nd season of "Digital Human" series - you can listen to it here

Please feel free to contact me for scheduling further interviews or lectures, in either Hebrew or English. 


How to notify of a death in this digital era - part 1

To be the second person posting about it

On July 23rd 2012, Barry Llewellyn called his aunt, 49 year old Cheryl Jones, asking what has happened to Karla James, her daughter (30 years old and the mother of a young girl). "What do you mean by 'what happened?'?", Cheryl asked. Barry had to tell her he saw "R.I.P.Karla" on Facebook, posted by Karla's friends. In obvious panic, Cheryl called her only daughter's mobile phone, only to have a police officer answer it in her stead, telling Cheryl that another police office will be over shortly. Karla collapsed close to her home - not far from her mother's home, in South Wales, UK - and was pronounced dead at 20:17.

The police arrived at Cheryl's house to notify her of Karla's death at 23:38 (Cheryl filed a complaint). Between 20:17 and 23:38, Karla's friends expressed their grief online on Facebook, Cheryl's nephew saw it, and you already know the rest. 

Cheryl holding a picture of Karla

On their 20th birthday, on February 7th 2010, twins Angela and Maryanne Vourlis woke and went online to see what greetings were already posted on their Facebook pages. Instead, they found "R.I.P. Bobby" and "R.I.P.Chris" postings: Bobby is their 17 year old brother, Chris is his best friend.

They weren't able to fathom what was going on and tried to get a hold of their brother by calling and texting him. When he didn't reply, they called their mother: "People in Facebook write that Chris has been killed, so that's probably true, but - what about Bobby? It's written in Facebook that he was killed too". Their mother said she didn't know where Bobby was at that moment and confirmed he did go out with Chris the previous night.

In this case, the sisters and their mother all learned of this death through Facebook. The mother called the nearest police station in attempts to track down her son. She received the heartbreaking news that Bobby and Chris (as well as another friend) were indeed dead - killed six hours earlier when the car they drove in crashed due to heavy rains, in Sydney, Australia. It took the police too long to reach the family. Facebook was faster. 

17 year old Bobby Vourlis 

On March 2nd 2011, when my brother, Tal Shavit, was killed, he was identified on the spot where the car had hit him. Since he was a public figure in Israel, so well known and well loved, news of his death traveled directly from the scene of his death and spread quickly - about half of Israel's population knew he was dead before we, his family, knew of it. The news spread quickly by word of mouth and, of course, went online as well. The managers of the various vehicles and motorcycles forums were caring and responsible enough to sit, glued to their screens that entire afternoon, and manually delete hundreds of messages posted by grieving forum members. They only approved messages in which Tal wasn't mentioned by name, until they were certain the family was notified. 

In one of the Israeli websites, nrg, the reporters and editors made a poor, unethical decision of going online with the "scoop" of my brother's death at a time in which neither of us - our sister, our parents, or me - knew of his death yet. Tal was a senior and much admired reporter and journalist and among other things, was head of the motorcycle section in another Israeli website, ynet.

In an unusual manner of conduct, the senior editors at ynet contacted the senior editors at nrg and demanded that this news item be taken offline. nrg did, and re posted it later, after the family was notified of Tal's death. It didn't happen, but our mother, my sister, or me, might have learned of Tal's death from surfing the net, or perhaps a relative might have seen it and called one of us to ask what had happened, and we would not have known what he was talking about (a good friend of mine, A., did see the item in nrg the first time it was online, when we didn't yet know. Fortunately for all of us: 1. A. was sensitive and clever: She didn't pick up the phone immediately - she first tried to determine if I had already been notified, 2. She had direct access to people who are close to me and aren't family members to find out discreetly through). 

When I discussed this with senior editors of vehicle and motorcycle websites in the days following Tal's death, one of them (and I apologize for not remembering which one of you it was) told me that in this case he was following the guideline stating: "I want my website to be the second one publishing such news, not the first". 

In Hebrew: Forum managers asking members not to mention my brother by name yet. 
There are 445 online replies in this thread.  

In Hebrew: The item in nrg that went online, then offline,
then online again 
at 17:24, after we were notified.

The Israeli media was perceived as uncaring and unthoughtful when Rona Ramon, widow of the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, learned of her son's death in a plane crash through reporters and photojournalists massing outside her house

Are the "official sources" for death notifications, i.e. police forces and army forces, too slow in the digital era? Probably. But in these digital times, every one of us is a reporter, every one is a journalist, every one is part of the media, every one could be the person through which (heaven forbid) a daughter, mother or sister might find out about a death of a loved one. Therefore, each one of us should act responsibly, and aim to be the second, not the first, to post such tidings. 

We could also show sensitivity, and post death-related information only after an appropriate amount of time has passed (i.e. hours and not minutes, for example), or after discreetly determining if all members of the immediate family were notified. 

Thank you Andriana Cassimatis for telling me about Cheryl Jones earlier this month, when we both attended "Digital Death Day" in London. 

How to notify of a death in this digital era - part 2 can be read here


"Digital Death Day", London, 2012

"Digital Death Day" 2012 was held at the "Centre for Creative Collaboration" in London on October 6th, 2012. It was both my first unconference and my first Digital Death Day, so a lot more writing to follow. For now, here are some pictures I took during the event:
January 2013 update: I posted the notes I took during it). 

The list of the issues we've covered during it can be found here

I want to express my heartfelt gratitude again to the people who took part in the crowdfunding and made this trip possible for me. 

During the unconference and following it I was interviewd by video, and by audio to BBC's Radio 4 Digital Human programme - details and links here


The Israeli angle of Digital Death

None of the Israeli Internet suppliers publish their policy in case of death of a client online. You can't find it, neither in the Terms of Use section nor in their Privacy Policy. I contacted each company and asked: What is your policy in case of a death of a client

The kindest, most thoughtful reply, was received from Ilana Tamir, Isra-Blog's manager. "I can tell you that, unfortunately, I came across that question quite often: what to do with the blog of a blogger who passed away? We don't have a strict policy because each case is different, but mainly we aim to respect the blogger's wishes: if the blogger closed their blog prior to their death (before taking their own life, for example), we will not reopen it, even if their family members will request it. On the other hand, If the family actually requests closing a blog, because of prying eyes or problematic content, we would most probably accept their wish. We sometimes give a relative the permissions to the blog, so they could post and inform about the blogger's passing".

"I have never asked yet to provide official documents. I usually just speak to a person on the phone to make sure this is not a prank or a social-hacking attempt. I noticed that sometimes the blog becomes a place of correspondence. For instance, I saw a brother who sends comments in his sister's blog every couple of months, stating how much he misses her". 

012 Smile
The most succinct reply was given by Meirav, a costumer assistant in Smile 012: "according to our legal department, no access to the mailbox shall be provided without a court-issued warrant".

The most organized policy on the subject is exercised in Walla!, as was specified to me by Nir, a department manager in their technological support department: "There is indeed a proper protocol to giving a password for a deceased person's email account. This policy guides the applicant and requests them to supply the following information to Walla!:
  • The deceased's name and email address
  • The name of the applicant
  • Stating the relation between account owner and applicant. 
In addition, we require the following documents:
  • A copy of an official document stating the releation between owner and applicant
  • A copy of the owner's death certificate
  • A signed lawyer statement (according to Walla!'s specific format)
  • If the account owner was underage, one needs to add to the aforementioned documents a written agreement of both parents and/or two legal guardians to provide the password, along with copies of the parents or guardians identification cards.

The vaguest answer was given by Shlomi, from the forum management team at Tapuz: "any person providing a concrete request in affairs such as this is welcome to contact the relevant people in Tapuz, and their request shall be looked into in a sensitive and thorough manner, as befits the circumstance".

When I repeated my question regarding Tapuz's policy in the matter of a user's passing, I received the following answer from the forums' support team: "As a rule, we do not provide a password when there is no access to the mail from which the user initially signed up, therefore it is impossible to provide access to control a user's profile or their content. A person with access to the signup mail account does not need our permission and can recreate the password automatically. In absence of legal reason and/or a court-issued warrant, change of uploaded content and control over the content will be done as a rule by the owners of the access to the user's account".

"Cafe TheMarker" 
The sentence that surprised me the most was found in the reply given by Lior Papirblat, the social media editor of the "Ha'aretz" group: "Although 'Cafe TheMarker' exists five years, I am unaware of any requests from relatives of deceased users".
"The rights of the uploaded content belong to the users. If the family is in posession of the username and password, they can log on to the profile unlimitedly" (the words were bold and underlined originally - V.) If they are not in posession of the username and password of the deceased user, our policy is to not give out personal information, including passwords, in order to protect our users. Unless there is a court-issued warning on the subject, to which we will comply, naturally".
"As a matter of principle, the inheritors must organize all affairs of inheritance and legacy by law, and as much as the courts will perceive that indeed there is justification in handing over the deceased's personal information, as was kept on the website, we will of course honor any such decision given by the court".

I find the fact that until now no requests were made to the Cafe on the subject quite astonishing. I asked Lior a few more questions:

If you were approached by relatives of a user who posted in the Cafe, closed their profile and commited suicide, would you agree to re-post their content?
Lior: "Again, if the family has a username and password to the user's profile, they can log on, take it offline, return it online or leave it as is as they please. We would most probably not know about the user's passing until the family would contact us".

If a deceased user's relatives would ask you to leave their posts untouched despite their passing, because they consider it a part of his legacy, would you agree to leave a profile untouched, despite knowing they are dead? Would you agree to post an announcement on the Cafe's behalf in the profile, at the family's request, noting the fact that they are no longer with us?
"If the deceaded did not delete the content before their death, and the family wishes to keep it - we have no problem. If they removed content and the family requests to restore it - this is a more complex issue. But if they regulate the matters of legacy and inheritence in court, we could provide them with the username and password, and they could restore the content. Provided, of course, that the user did not delete those completely. We have no technical way to publish a death annoucement in someone's profile. The most we could do would be publishing it as a comment to the deceased's last post".

If you were approached with the request to remove a user's content because they have passed, would you agree to close their profile and remove all their posted content, even if was not their request but rather their families, because they wouldn't wish this to be online?
"Only if this was agreed upon in court"

013 Netvision
A regulated policy on the subject was presented by service assistant Tanya-from-team-Adi ("we don't give out last names"): "When we are approached on the subject of a user's passing, one must provide a death certificate (which is the formal reference for us to give out information to a third party), an ID number, and the last four digits of the payment card (complete telephone customer identifying information).  Afterwards, we can provide passwords to all 013 Netvision services to which the user was subscribed, including email and cloud storage. You must remember this is all possible if the subscription has not been cancelled by the subscriber prior to their death: If the customer closed their mail account, there is no way of recovering or pulling their data. As soon as the account closed, it is closed, end of story".
"If the family wishes to keep the email account active, they must transfer the ownership on the account: the address stays unchaged, but it is transfered to the posession of the family members interested in maintaining it".

Since Netvision has different services to private and business clients, I asked if there is a difference in policies:
Tanya: "In case of a private subscriber, one must provide the aforementioned information. In case of a business subscriber, only the owner of the business, or someone on behalf of the business (whom is already known and indentified in the Netvision system), may be given the information. One must provide a death certificate, the company identification number or the ID number with which the company joined the service and the last four digits of the payment card".

This is interesting: seeing as many people send private correspondence from their office accounts as well, there may be an instance when private, personal correspondence may be exposed to the eyes of the business owner or workplace colleagues - which may cause unpleasantness even when there are no conflicts. In fraught situations, family members may find themselves "hostages" against business partners or bosses, who are the only ones with access to the mail, and they may delete mail that may be important to the family - personally or work-wise. 

Bezeq Benleumi
The most surprising policy was presented by Hadar Fleischer, head of public inquiries in Bezeq Benleumi: "We receive more requests to cancel the Internet access subscription than requests for email access. To cancel a subscription, we need what is complete customer identification information: the deceased's ID number and last four digits of payment card. That is also all you need to get the password for the deceased's email account. To receive reimbursement for the  Internet access subscription, we would require also a death certificate, and if we find that indeed there has been no Internet activity since the reported date of death, we will retroactively reimburse the payment from that date".

"If family members wish to cancel the Internet subscription but leave the email account active,  that is possible: for no charge in the first six months, and from the seventh month for a fee of 9.90 Shekel per month. You can report the death either immediately or retroactively".

On one hand, you can say that this shows lenience on Bezeq's side, in that it does not wish to burden the family with asking for a death certificate before beginning to look into the case. On  the other hand, this is the minimal information to provide the company with in order to receive the password: the ID number and last four digits of the payment card. No need for documents proving familial relations or proof of death. And this minimal information is too minimal, in my eyes. 

Nana 10
Seeing that the Nana10 mail is based on Hotmail, I wasn't sure who is the policy maker as to the issue of the death of users - Hotmail or Nana10? I asked both Nana10 and Microsoft Israel, and it turns out I'm not the only one who's unclear on the subject. According to the answer of Uri, the chat representative in Microsoft's customer service ("last name is immaterial"), Hotmail's global policy is applied to Hotmail Israel, and accordingly on the users of Nana10.

It is possible that a user's relatives, who believe he has an "Israeli" email account, would be surprised to learn that he owns an "international" email account, and that they need to approach - in English - the company overseas. Uri forwarded me to an FAQ page on the subject in the International Microsoft's forums (in English) and said that if I have further questions, I am welcome to post them there. I was happy to see that this information was also available in Hebrew, in the Microsoft Israel discussion groups.

On the one hand, the Hotmail policy (as I specify in the technical guide) is relatively user friendly and easy for the family of the deceased. On the other hand, I would expect that if I use an account with the suffix, like Nana10 offers, I will have someone in Israel to guide me.

Update, 5.8.12: Nimrod, public inquiries manager in Microsoft's customer support, came back to me ("no last name needed"). Microsoft do not know what their policy is when a Nana10 customer passes - he is looking into that and will get back to me with an answer in a few days.

Update, 12.8.12: Ilana Tamir of Nana10, came back to me with an answer - nearly one month after my first contact with them on the subject (and after numerous mails). According to the email supervisor in Nana10, an inheritance order is needed in order to receive access to the email. In other words, one must turn to an Israeli court, rather than the international Hotmail. I wonder if Microsoft are aware of that.

Update, 21.8.12: Nimrod, public inquiries manager in Microsoft's customer support, called me back with a formal answer, as promised: Microsoft has nothing to do with it. Service, support etc. in case of death of a client are provided solely by nana10. 

Since it took Microsoft longer than two weeks to get back to me with their official answer, I can't help but assume they didn't have this answer at hand, not to say that they didn't have an answer at all. 
Since it took nana10 four weeks to get back to me with a formal answer, I can't help but assume that their the policy wasn't clear to them either. 

Internet Rimon
In May 2013 I asked Internet Rimon, used primarily by religious Jews, what is their policy (it's not published online either). The initial short, laconic answer was received from Nofit Harevi, in charge of Public Inquiries: "Each case is looked into by Internet Rimon's attorney". When I kept asking for more details, I was told "Each inquiry reaching our call center was looked into and each case was checked separately. The family can contact our call center by phone and explain the circumstances, our representative will personally take care of it and forward it to the relevant people".  

How can you approach each company? The post "After death: a technical guide" has been updated with their contact information

Thank you Ayelet Yagil for your generous help with translating this post


Alicia Keys: Digital Death as a way to Save Lives

Alicia Keys co-founded a campaign in December 2010 to raise funds for fighting HIV in Africa and India. The title: "Digital Death - Keep A Child Alive". The rules of the game: Alicia Keys and other artists "kill" their online presence, their fans donate funds for treating HIV positive children in India and Africa in order to "bring them back to life", and once the donations reach the goal of one million dollars, the celebrities are "resurrected" and go back online.

While the participants were digitally "dead", they didn't update their Facebook and Twitter accounts, and their fans were left without the flowing updates they're so used to having. The fans were also invited to take part, by "sacrificing themselves" and "killing" their online personas, in order to help raise further funds. 

Instructions about how to make the "ultimate digital sacrifice" can be found here, and the pictures of the artists who chose to "die" in this campaign - among them Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian, Justin Timberlake, Usher, Lenny Kravitz, Serena Williams, Elijah Wood, Kimberly Cole and David LaChapelle - can be found here.  

The pictures which formed this campaign are indeed troubling and eye-catching: 

It worked: in 6 days more than $1,000,000 worth of donations were raised. 

Lady Gaga couldn't miss out on an opportunity to wear a costume, so she went shopping dressed as a corpse, with makeup to match, during her digital deathness period. You can read about it in the Daily Mail Online here

Further details about this campaign can be found in the press release

Although it clearly wasn't what the campaign was about, I hope it helped raise awareness to digital death in general: if we realize that others - and ourselves - have digital personas which are important and meaningful to us, so much so that we're willing to spend money to keep it "alive", perhaps we will also realize it's important to manage it. 
And if I take this line of thought one step further: perhaps such a campaign can be used in order  to raise awareness to the subject.