New Laws Needed to Deal With Users’ Digital Legacies
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This is the VOA Special English Technology Report.
Benjamin Stassen took his own life in twenty-ten. His parents thought their twenty-one year old son was happy. Since his suicide, they have attempted to learn why he killed himself.
Alice and Jay Stassen thought Benjamin’s Facebook account might hold clues to his suicide. But the account does not belong to them, nor did it belong to their son. Facebook owns everything in his account. That is what the company says in its user agreement.
Jay Stassen says he found it difficult even to communicate with Facebook.
JAY STASSEN: “If you search on the home page of Facebook for an email address, a mailing address, a phone number, a contact person to assist in a situation like we’ve been in, you will find a dearth of information.
A court ordered the company to let the Stassens see their son’s account. However, Facebook has yet to obey the order.
Thirty-four-year-old Mac Tonnies died in his sleep in two thousand nine. He left behind a lot of online friends, many of whom liked his futuristic blog, “Post-Human Blues.” Work on the blog stopped when he died. A short time later, the comments area was filled with unwanted advertising. That angered his friend Dia Sobin.
DIA SOBIN: “It’s really like a desecration to find spam in that comment section in that blog, which basically has become almost like a virtual burial plot.”
Lawyer John Boucher stays informed about digital rights and the law. But he admits that he and his wife have signed many user agreements without reading them. He says he would not know how to get information from his wife’s accounts if she dies.
JOHN BOUCHER: “I have no clue. So there is a dual problem here. One is people don’t think about it. And two, even if they did, they might find they are legally barred from doing it. I personally think what’s gonna happen over time is there are going to be model laws drafted to deal with all these circumstances. But they’re gonna take years to be accepted by the states, you know. There’s going to be a gray area for the foreseeable future.”
Some businesses now are offering people a way to control what happens to their online information after they die. One way to do this is to place your online accounts and passwords in a digital storage area. You give the owners of the area orders about which information to destroy and which to give others when you die.
Mark Plattner was one of Mac Tonnie’s friends. He recently used a program called Sitesucker to download Mac’s blog. He then uploaded a copy of the blog to a new web site under his control. Mark Plattner says we should all plan our own digital legacy. He says “don’t be passive -- get to work on your online afterlife now.”
And that’s the VOA Special English Technology Report. You can leave comments about this story at voaspecialenglish.com. I’m Christopher Cruise.
Contributing: Adam Phillips