The US state of Delaware just this week passed a landmark law that gives the digital legacy’s rights of the deceased in the hands of their heirs. The issue found resonance in India too, because the country has an Internet user base up to nearly 250 million people that on a scale never witnessed before is sharing and creating content. Soon, in India there will be more Facebook users than anywhere else in the world. India is viewed as the next biggest and potential frontier by Twitter and the perfect digital storm is being created by the internet-enabled business models driving forward everything from booking a table at a restaurant to taxi rides.
So the question is after millions of users in India leave behind their digital remains what will happen to them? When it comes to plan the afterlife, like in most parts of the world, companies and users are still dealing with a blurred digital ignorance and regulatory framework.
Like any other legacy, there is an ever-growing list of items such as Facebook pages, personal content, family pictures and even bitcoin wallets stored digitally that has to be handled accordingly. After the death of a young Gmail/Google user, in order to retrieve his about-to-be-published book, the parents of the deceased spent months in searching. And a bitcoin miner is wondering how to manage inheritance after he’s dead with currency worth over Rs 5 lakh.
Based in Bangalore, a software engineer C Suresh, 37 has been baffled for quite some time by thought of figuring out what to do with all the bitcoins that his older brother who earlier this year lost his life in a car accident left behind. He said that he doesn’t have a clue where the currency might be stored, because all he has is a laptop. The problem with bitcoin is that it requires active development and after the miner is gone that is practically impossible.
Benson Samuel, an activist and bitcoin miner, said he assumes that in case there is really an afterlife there wouldn’t be any active development on bitcoin protocol, because it would have been broken. He added that this would give opportunity to people to break the used crypto algorithm.
Last year in India, in order to retrieve a book that was written by a young Google user, his parents found it quite difficult to access his email account. An individual acquainted with the incident said that in this case it is very painful and tough for the kin because of the existing processes and from India they had to make the necessary request to Pal Alto.
On the ground, an increased activity is seen by a UK-based startup called Planned Departure which is helping users organize their digital remains. While planning digital afterlife, the majority of users tend to think of traditional legal heirs and that is the biggest challenge. Komal Joshi, cofounder of Planned Departure said that their digital assets are very sophisticated and because of that the right way to solve it is not by transferring it to legal heirs.
He added that if he owned a domain for instance and this very same domain is transferred to his legal heir it becomes useless unless they are equipped with the necessary know-how. Social media sites like Facebook have been focusing their efforts to create memorials for the deceased however people who are creating those memorials cannot be 100% certain that this is the way the deceased wanted to be remembered
Joshi also mentioned an incident about a girl who created a Facebook memorial after she lost her brother in Iraq. There are people who are okay with a memorial page and then there are some who would prefer the account or page to be deleted in order to make sure that their profile doesn’t pop up anywhere.
An MBA graduate working in Delhi last year lost her uncle, who worked as a wildlife photographer. He saved a lot of the images on his iCloud and Google Drive like many contemporary photographers. He didn’t like to save his images on the camera. She recalled that she couldn’t stop thinking about those images when her uncle was dying of cancer in the hospital, but it wasn’t the right time to discuss that.
The law in India is ambiguous according to an expert in cyber law Prashant Mali regarding whether online digital remains can be consigned to a legal heir. He explained that the will has to explicitly mention the consigned digital properties with companies and details such as Facebook and Google notified so that the deceased’s accounts can be transferred to the legal heir.