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The Death Switch

Ynet: Death on the Internet

The Death Switch
Do you have a secret you are willing to share only from the grave? Files that must be deleted the day you are deleted? Do you want to manage your near and dear ones even after you die? The following services offer to do all this and more
Published: July 29th, 2011, 19:52

"A Brief History of Death Switches" is a very short story written in 2006 by the brain researcher David Eagleman. "At the beginning of the computer era,", the story opens, "people died with passwords in their heads… companies could grind to a halt". That’s when programmers invented death switches, allowing the deceased to pass information on at their death – and then these were refined and became a sort of life after death. 

Previous articles in this series:

Here's what's interesting about this story: it gave birth to a real product, called Death Switch, which defines itself as personal information insurance. The way it works is a little reminiscent of Hollywood movie plots regarding extortion.

The user enters information into the system and where it should be sent at the event of his death. From that moment, the system regularly sends him emails confirming he is alive. If the system doesn't receive an answer to a number of reminders, it assumes the user has died and releases the information. When you hear of such a system, your imagination runs wild with espionage and thriller scenarios – also, it can't be pleasant to send a weekly or monthly message to remind the computer that you haven't died yet.

Having said that, the system allows everyone to send 'dry' information such as passwords and financial statements, free of charge (or by paying for the Premium package, if you want to send several messages to different people and attach files). You can also send something more interesting such as secrets that couldn't be revealed during your lifetime – or deliver the last word in an argument.

Legacy Locker
This service, which seems to have been invested in to a larger extent, is suitable for a user who doesn't only want to say something after death, but to continue managing their near and dear ones after death. Here you can choose those who will continue your work and give each of them their own password; give different people access to different information, and here too attach after-death letters.

The confirmation method is different here: the user selects people who can turn to the site and report their death. The chain of events you decided on ahead of time begins with this reliable report. To prevent the accidental exposure of sensitive and personal information, the site takes several steps to confirm that you have actually died: they confirm with at least two of the people you chose as being authorized to announce your death that that has actually taken place; and then they request a copy of your death certificate. Here too, as in all the following services, there is a free package and a Premium package.

(Since this article was published , Entrustet has been purchased and is now part of SecureSafe). This service, like the previous ones, offers to provide your loved ones with information regarding your digital assets after you die. No less important – it offers the service of deleting files. Here a digital asset executor must be appointed as well as benefactors, and you need to compile a safe list of your digital assets. This includes files on your computer, in addition to your online accounts, and the decision which will be passed on to your heirs – and which will be deleted.

The questions raised on the site sound so sensible, it's surprising so few people have taken advantage of these services: "How will your lawyer or family have access or be able to manage your digital assets, or even know which assets you have, assuming that you – like everyone else – use sites that are password protected? And even if they access them, how will they know what to do with them? Beyond that, just as you didn't want everyone to know everything about you while you were alive, it could be that also after death you would prefer that certain aspects of your life remain private."

Data Inherit
(Since this article was published , Data Inherit became SecureSafe). And in conclusion, if you always wanted your information to be locked in a Swiss safe deposit box, this service allows you to keep that same information in an online Swiss safe and release them at the event of your sad demise. Here, interestingly enough, the word death isn't used. Instead, this service offers 'insurance in emergencies'.

Thank you Rachel (Berman) Madar for translating these articles. 

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