378 words — 2 minutes read

Death of a Digital Identity

Actually - I’m not sure if he’s dead yet. I have an aquaintace that I met online and that I have seen in real life maybe two or three times. We share one common interest, but not much more (as far as I know). Yesterday I talked to a good friend of mine (met through the same on-line channels, sharing the same interests). She knows my aquaintance much better than I do. And she told me, that he has severed all connections to our online community. He has deleted his email accounts, deregistered from the forum, quit the chat. There is no online identity any more.

We don’t know much about this person. But we know that he is terminally ill. He will be dead in a couple of weeks. Maybe he is dead already. We don’t know.

I’ll spare you the mourning bit, but talking about this event got us thinking:

What happens to your online-identity when you die? We all leave traces in cyberspace. We touch people by the things we write - on a blog, in a chat room, on a forum, on a mailing-list. Who will take care of communicating your dead to your online world?

Or let’s step back a bit: Who knows your online identity? Who knows all your email adresses? (including that Hotmail account you created for stuff that you wouldn’t want your system admin to read) Who knows in what communities you are registred? Who knows your virtual social network? Who knows what ties you have to different people in cyberspace? Who has the password to all the accounts on all the services you are signed up for?

Who is going to send out “he’s deceased” notices out to all that knew you? Who is going to delete your email accounts? Who is passing on that you have ceased to be a living and a digital identitiy? Who is going to close or take over the communities that you created and managed?

What happens to those parts of your digital life, that nobody else than you - and your partners in those parts - knew about?

I think it’s time to stop a moment, and think about who will take care of burying your digital identity when you are dead.

Jens-Christian Fischer

Maker. Musician