Wednesday, July 15, 2009

(Face)Book of the Dead

When I wrote this piece last week, some of what was in my mind was the potential lack of control and access to data which can arise in the event of the demise of a site or service. In the admittedly unlikely event that Facebook were to shut down, what recourse would users have to gain access to the data or archive the communications and content shared?

However, there is another gloomier aspect to the issue, which I have been discussing a lot with colleagues recently, and that is what happens to digital assets upon the death of the user/creator? If my laptop and I go down in flames in a plane crash, my JungleDisk back-ups of family photos and videos are of little use to my family if there is no mechanism for gaining access to the account. Ditto for everything I have put on Flickr, if they're unable to execute a renewal of my paid-for "Pro" account, which is currently tied to my credit card.

As our reliance on web services grows, there inevitably will come a time when these digital orphaned assets become a real source of pain or loss (and probably litigation) for many people. Lillian Edwards, whom I sat next to at a dinner a few weeks back, is featured in an interesting video on the work she has been doing around these issues. As she stresses, this is something which most people aren't thinking about - yet. She highlights Legacy Locker as one interesting potential solution, and I agree it looks promising.

I also wonder if this isn't the sort of issue which could really help the OpenID movement sell its proposition. I'm not a lawyer, but presumably if you have a legally recognized digital form of ID (check out Turkcell's offering here, particularly under the "Public" heading), then this is something that family members can claim power of attorney over in the event of death or incapacity, or that individuals can bequeath access to via a will.

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