What happens to the content we store online after we die? This is a question that has become more relevant as we store more of our life’s work and personal photos and memories in the cloud.
Yahoo Japan has launched a service last week to help the country’s aging population (nearly one-quarter of the population is 65 or older) erase their data once they die.
According to the Washington Post, the service costs $1.80 per month, and will deactivate Yahoo users’ accounts after their deaths, delete documents, photos and videos from their Yahoo Box online storage accounts and cancel subscription services linked to Yahoo Wallet.
When users sign up for the service, they receive a booking number to share with someone, who is responsible for calling a Yahoo Ending number to let Yahoo know that the user has died. After that call has been made, the deceased’s funeral home sends the confirmation to Yahoo, which triggers the deletion of the account.
Launched in 1996, Yahoo Japan is a joint venture by Yahoo US and SoftBank.
Other online services, like Google and Facebook, give users ways to memorialize accounts. Google launched Inactive Account Manager last year to give users a way to tell Google what to do with Gmail messages and other data if an account becomes inactive for any reason. On Facebook, accounts can be memorialized when a user dies.
Yahoo Ending goes one step further by actually offering funeral arrangements and advice with preparing wills. It has partnered with funeral services company Kamakura Shinsho on this part of the service.
In an article on the WHIR, guest blogger Jared Smith says that getting your digital assets in order before you die is the best way to ensure they are properly taken care of. For example, passwords for online accounts should be included in your will, so should the name of a “digital executor” – a tech-savvy person who can take responsibility for shutting down accounts.
In the US, states are considering digital asset laws that govern the inheritance of things like blogs, email passwords, and other digital accounts, according to a report by the Washington Post. Some states, including Idaho, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, already have some of these laws in place.
It does appear that there is money to be made in cleaning up or shutting down online accounts after death. At least several dozen startups are offering services including posthumous messaging and digital asset preservation.