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Digital Legacy: will my data keep living on?

IOS 15 provides a way to ensure that you can pass on your data to people of your choice once you have departed this world… Image credit: CNET

According to most recent studies 100% of people die. It is not new, it happened in the past as well. What is new is that today many of us, if not most of us, have accrued a partial mirror of their life in digital form. This digital life keeps living once you pass away and, as for material possessions one wonders what will happen to the digital ones?

There are plenty of messages, text, images, voices… that are stored somewhere in the cyberspace and that might become impossible to access to  others once we are no longer there. Among these there may be passwords to access digital wealth, like cryptocurrency.

It looks like Apple,  Facebook and Google are starting to look at this and are coming up with some solutions. Basically, although in different forms, they allow us to create a sort of digital legacy (a sort of digital will) that will automatically be executed after a specified period of time that you are no longer interacting with your data.

You can set up the length of “inactivity” after which the persons you indicated in your digital will can access your data (and specify what data can be accessed by which person). After the period of inactivity has expired those persons will receive an email with the instructions to access the part of data that you have allocated to them.

You also have the option to specify that once the inactivity period has expired all your data (managed by that provider) shall be erased. Of course it will be difficult for you to double check that indeed they will be erased (and suing the provider might prove difficult as well). For some suspicious guy this mechanism might look like a communication to the provider that you won’t be there any longer to claim possession of your data so that the provider at that point may become the “owner” of your data. Of course it is a matter of trust but for sure it opens up interesting issues. Who will control your data provider?

What I found interesting is discovering that Google and the other big data managers are starting to consider this aspect. It is something really new, we never had this kind of issue in the past. I suspect it will become more and more important as more and more of our life is mirrored in the cyberspace, as we will be flanked by our digital twin. And our digital twin is -potentially- immortal.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.