PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) –It’s the last thing on your mind when you click that “I agree” box and sign up for an online account.
But, the reality is one day you’ll be gone but your Facebook, Twitter and anything else you signed up for will still be as alive as ever on the internet – and it’s up to loved ones to clean up the mess.
One Portland startup is getting international attention because it’s helping people plan for their digital deaths.
“It’s a job no one should have to do,” said WebCease founder Glenn Williamson.
“The problem is coming to a head because we have online assets we don’t know about.”
He first came up with the idea when he had the jarring experience of seeing two friends, both of whom were deceased, on LinkedIn.
Then, his mother died. Williamson spent 20 hours seeking out her digital footprint.
No man’s land
“Sometimes you’re in fiduciary no-man’s land, where you find the account but there’s really nothing you can do to shut it down,” he said. The more he dug, the more apparent the problem became.
Essentially the company works with families of the deceased to find the digital assets (accounts, airmiles, reward points) they may not even know they had and either manage, or shut them down.
One of the most challenging aspects of a digital death is radically different terms of service from account to account, and the scarceness with which people actually read them.
It’s a well known fact most Americans don’t have a will, but a digital will is something entirely different.
“If you don’t have a will you sure haven’t thought about your digital assets,” said Williamson.
Facebook recently changed its terms of service to allow family members of the deceased to either close or memorialize an account. But once it’s memorialized, it cannot be shut down or moderated.
Digital law is still akin to the “Wild West.” The Uniform Law Commission is trying to come up with new language around managing accounts.
“We were in stealth law for 18 months, understanding what was the problem, and what we could do,” said Williamson.
WebCease won’t hack into grandma’s Facebook account and shut it down – that’s not what they do. A report will scour the bowels of the internet and find online accounts through email searches. But, who doesn’t have five different email addresses?
“A lot of people will say I don’t have digital assets, then you ask them three questions and they go ‘I’ve already got six,’” said Williamson.
“The problem is the average American has 13 -18 online accounts, and when they’re gone those accounts are out there active for a certain period of time.”
“We find those and we instruct the family how best to shut them down.”
Williamson said he is hopeful the law will catch up, but in the mean time his team is working on a consumer product for people not necessarily planning their estates.
“I think we’d all be shocked if we went ‘Oh yeah, I guess I did join that account.’”