October 02, 2014 06:22 UTC

Science & Technology

New Laws Needed to Deal With Users’ Digital Legacies

Read, listen and learn English with this story. Double-click on any word to find the definition in the Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary.

After futurist writer and blogger Mac Tonnies died suddenly at 34, his friends and admirers were inspired to keep his legacy alive by freezing his blog to keep spam out, and creating blogs dedicated to him. (Courtesy The Tonnies Family)  After futurist writer and blogger Mac Tonnies died suddenly at 34, his friends and admirers were inspired to keep his legacy alive by freezing his blog to keep spam out, and creating blogs dedicated to him. (Courtesy The Tonnies Family)
x
After futurist writer and blogger Mac Tonnies died suddenly at 34, his friends and admirers were inspired to keep his legacy alive by freezing his blog to keep spam out, and creating blogs dedicated to him. (Courtesy The Tonnies Family)
After futurist writer and blogger Mac Tonnies died suddenly at 34, his friends and admirers were inspired to keep his legacy alive by freezing his blog to keep spam out, and creating blogs dedicated to him. (Courtesy The Tonnies Family)

Multimedia

Play or download an MP3 of this story
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
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
07/23/2012 4:43 AM
So, it means that those who has website should tell his/her account and password to someone reliable before death?

In Response

by: Maximgold
07/24/2012 9:53 PM
It doesn't matter...

Learn with The News

  • A pro-democracy activist shouts slogans on a street near the government headquarters where protesters have made camp in Hong Kong, Oct. 1, 2014.

    Audio Protesters Call for Hong Kong Chief to Step Down

    Also at least 10 people were killed on Wednesday when shells hit a school playground and a minibus in Donetsk, Ukraine. And, U.S.-led airstrikes hit near a key Syrian border town for a second day, as Kurdish fighters defend the area from Islamic State militants. | In the News More

  • South Koreans march during a rally 100 days after the ferry Sewol sunk in Seoul, South Korea, July 24, 2014.

    Audio Ferry Investigation Divides South Korea

    South Korean lawmakers have agreed to launch a new investigation into the deadly passenger boat accident in April. But many people are not happy with the measure. Other citizens protest a second investigation. More

  • Ebola Dallas Hospital

    Audio First Ebola Case Reported in US

    An unidentified person has brought Ebola into the U.S. from Liberia. This person is being treated. Those he or she came into contact with are being closely watched. More

  • Mercedes Garcia of El Salvador fills in the application for her new ?green card? while waiting in a predawn line outside the Immigration and Naturalization Service office on Wednesday, March 20, 1996 in Los Angeles. Wednesday was the deadline to apply for

    Audio US 'Green Card' Lottery Registration Begins

    The US government’s Diversity Immigrant Visa Program makes 50,000 visas available every year. The program is designed for people from countries that have “historically low rates of immigration to the United States.” | As It Is More

  • Carter Elections

    Photogallery Former US President Jimmy Carter Turns 90

    He won the Nobel Peace Prize and served as Georgia’s governor and as a Navy officer. Former peanut farmer, former nuclear engineer now works as a human rights activist. Liked and disliked around the world. He has written 26 books and is writing more. | As It Is More

Featured Stories

  • Children exercise during a weight-losing summer camp in Shenyang, Liaoning province, August 3, 2009. Obesity is becoming one of the biggest threats to children's health, a nationwide investigation has warned, pointing out that students' physical indicator

    Audio Physically Fit Children Do Better in School

    Several studies found that children who had physical activity on a usual basis improved in school. The children also learn best if physical activity is included during class or before. | Health Report More

  • Union and Confederates troops clashed on July 21, 1861 near Manassas Junction, Virginia.

    Audio Manassas Ends Hope for a Short War

    Many northerners wanted Union forces to seize the new Confederate capital and quickly end the rebellion. Pro-Union newspapers urged, "On to Richmond!" But the North soon learned it needed a better trained army to fight the Confederacy. More

  • Singer Lorde performs at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada May 18, 2014.    REUTERS/Steve Marcus (UNITED STATES  - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)  (BILLBOARDAWARDS-SHOW) - RTR3PR0U

    Audio Lorde Releases Single for 'Hunger Games' Soundtrack

    The 17-year-old New Zealander is curating the soundtrack. The album is to be released a few days before 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part One' opens November 21st. | American mosaic More

  • The US is a nation of immigrants. But China is a nation of ... Chinese.

    Audio US, China: A Look at Immigration and Migration

    The U.S. and China have the two largest economies filled with opportunities and jobs. In 2013, a Pew study found that 45 million international migrants lived in the United States. Yet only “850,000 people living in China were born in other countries.” More

  • Artist conception of ISEE-3 in space.  (ISEE-3 Reboot Project)

    Video Citizen-Scientists Take Control of Old Satellite

    Former NASA engineer helps group get information from a satellite that was launched in the 1970s and had been silent for years; giving an old satellite a new mission. | As It Is More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner BlogConfessions of an English Learner Blog

Tell us About Our Programs