Almost one in four people say they would support having a “data death” soon after their physical death, according to new research.
LifeSearch found that 24% of people would want their social media and email accounts automatically deleted, instead of leaving it to their relatives to have to go through their data and close down their accounts.
But it also found the vast majority of people, 92%, had never discussed what they want to happen with their online data after they die.
LifeSearch spokesperson Emma Walker said: “With our online presence increasingly a part of everyday life, it’s important that we consider what will happen to our social media profiles, email accounts and the thousands of photos, videos and memories that go with them.
“Avoiding essential conversations about our digital life after death could leave our loved ones locked out, unable to take control, or at the mercy of hackers should the worst happen.”
An average internet user will have seven social media accounts, made up of thousands of pieces of public and private data.
Most social media sites will close or suspend accounts if they learn of a user’s death. But that can take time and paperwork, unless relatives can access the deceased’s profile and passwords.
Google and Facebook offer “legacy settings”, where a user can select a contact to “curate” selected parts of an account after their death, in the same way an executor would organise assets according to instructions in a will.
Lilian Edwards, professor of law, innovation and society at Newcastle University, told Sky News: “I think it’s very interesting that these options are in the tools, because right now this is not something that people are putting in their wills. Even if it was, I’m not sure a lawyer would know what to do with it.
“But the thing is people need to know about it. I think it would be a good idea to have more public education. Because a lot of this information can be quite intimate and things you might not want relatives to see.”
Eloise Guiborg would welcome a more nuanced approach.
In 2015, her brother Sacha, 17, died in a car accident. She found comfort in looking at his social media photographs and videos as well as the messages they had sent each other via social media platforms.
When Sacha’s main social media account was suspended, after one of his friends informed the platform, she said it was like losing him again.
Miss Guiborg told Sky News: “Everything I had talked about with my brother was gone, every trip we made, every photo we sent to each other over the past three years, everything was just gone.
“I couldn’t read the tone of my brother’s messages anymore. It was literally just horrible. At first, it was anger and then it was ‘not again, I can’t be losing him again’.”
The family were able to get the account restored, and set it up as a “memorial page” where photos and comments could be looked at but not added to.
But Miss Guiborg believes it is not something anyone should have to deal with in their moment of grief.
“Just because it’s not a hand-written letter doesn’t mean these aren’t important moments and memories.
“And in some ways I think they are more important. Because letters would just be kept in a tin box at home. But the photos and videos and messages I have of Sacha, I can take anywhere.”