If a real world Will is essentially an inventory of your net gains in this life – possessions, assets, the family silver – then a Digital Will is an inventory of your digital world assets – your online bank accounts, your social media accounts, your Racing Post account, your National Lottery account, your online photo album, your email accounts…just about everything that you can think of plus all those things you probably used once then forgot about.
Glasgow Young Professionals, a networking group for…non-old folk in Glasgow, hosted an event that raised the issue of what would happen to our digital assets once we had joined the big social network in the sky. James Inglis, a partner at MacRoberts, described cases, scenarios, opinions and questions around the current laws in Scotland and the UK – not to mention reading directly from the huge Terms and Condition documents we accept without hesitation.
A Digital Will isn’t just for “silver surfers” – those vintage web users who shame the rest of us with their expert use of social networks to communicate with family and friends around the globe, sharing experiences, viewing photos of the most recent grand niece, voicing an opinion that would otherwise have been the subject of a letter to the local paper. In fact in our younger years we’re becoming so dependent on the internet for paying bills, holding our information and communicating with our friends that an early demise may leave a difficult legacy for our loved ones.
Bruce Willis vs Apple.
Bruce Willis strikes me as the kind of guy who has CDs and records in abundance – the kinds of things you buy. You get a receipt, you get the product, you can hold it and touch it and it’s yours to do with as you please. But when you buy something on iTunes, you don’t “own” it. You’re just being given the rights to use it. You could leave access to your iTunes to your children, that’s true, but in the age of the internet we have to realise that purchasing something from “the cloud” doesn’t give us the same sense of ownership as you would have walking into a store and leaving with a CD or DVD.
Willis probably isn’t going to sue Apple. Apple have it in their terms and conditions – what you buy is “yours”…until you die. Hard to imagine if you spent most of your life in a web free world, but there it is.
Terms and Conditions
I’m not certain, but it seemed that James Inglis was reading directly from a print out of Terms and Conditions from various providers. It’s not surprising that some providers have fairly straightforward terms regarding the accounts of a deceased individual while others hesitate to make it easy to deal with the complicated task of deactivating a user account.
Essentially iTunes are a middle man between you and the publisher of the product you purchase. You own the license so long as you keep with their terms and the terms of the publisher.
As with iTunes, Amazon is a middle man – they don’t own the content but allow us, the end user, access to it.
James didn’t take long in describing the irony of Gmail’s policy on accessing a deceased person’s email. They may be able to give you access to an account provided you sent various documents to them…by post.
Twitter and Facebook, however, are quite easy. If you provide some kind of proof that the account owner is deceased they will shut down the account and in some cases archive all the information and send it to an elected individual. Facebook currently allows users to download everything on their accounts and Twitter is working on this as we speak.
There are various services that are essentially online vaults where you can store information that you would wish your loved ones to access if you die. The trouble is that there are so many services emerging with a different method and you don’t want to end up with the ‘Betamax’ version of a Digital Vault – doomed to perish before you do.
The best option is to talk to a professional about what it is, whether you need one and what you ought to do. Not everyone will see a Digital Will as being as important as any other Will – but the next time you are confronted with terms and conditions you may want to find out what happens to your data once you’re gone. As one Partner at the event said, “I don’t have any Facebook friends. I’m a lawyer.”