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Ashutosh Agrawal

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We should have digital cremation of an individual when they die which will erase their digital footprint.

I think today we have more contacts in digital world( friends in facebook, followers in twitter, emails, etc.) than in physical world. So I it is absolutely necessary to have a digital cremation for the information of digital contacts and clear digital space. Without digital cremation it would be like a world where corpses would be lying all over the place. Currently space is not at premium in digital world but surely user names are; without digital cremation it simply gets unavailable to other users for very long time (if not perpetually). it is currently very difficult to get a decent username/ e-mail I'd imagine the situation 10 years from now. So it is of paramount importance to remove "deceased users" from the system. I don't like the idea people 10year down the line having an email-id as afjdjdxjgjgxjjx@gmail.com.

Before coming to the operationalization of digital cremation let's understand cremation of physical world. It is by society norms which is totally acceptable unless stated otherwise. Persons immediate family is responsible for performing his/her adieu ceremony, this is designated by the norms of the society.

By the same analogy there should be a designated person to perform digital adieu. As digital world is based on autonomy it would be choice of individual to designate his/ her "digital cremator"(dc). All online registration should necessarily carry a field where you fill in details of at least 2 dc. And only upon receiving confirmation from 2 dcs it would become applicable and they would be registered in a separate website/ program let's call it as 'terminator'. It goes without saying that individual will have choice to change dc at any given point of time.

DCs simply have to activate the terminator that will crawl web to clear desired user data. To have some checks and balances there can be a "cooling off" period where a message will be sent to e-mail id of user where he/she can terminate the terminator in case of a false alarm.

Topics: digital age
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    Jan 8 2014: Ashutosh,

    The internet was originally created by academics who wanted, first and foremost, to share and exchange research data in an open-source and collaborative world. Now we have personal and financial information being exchanged on a medium that was, from its inception, intended to be open and shared ... and we foolishly think that, in some ridiculously insignificant way, we can have any input on our individual fingerprint, if not, footprint on the internet, and “recall” them upon our demise?

    We have this one choice. We can unplug and remain in a prior century, or engage with the realization that nothing ... no keystroke, no chat, no Skype conversation, etc. ... nothing we say or do on the internet is "private."

    Prediction: the genie will not return to this bottle.
  • Jan 4 2014: I did'nt know that. Perhaps my digital columbarium, shall include all the social networking accounts that a deceased person has. :)) I just thought of making a case study of this idea for my business research and marketing plan next school term. TED is really helpful. Love you guys! And, thanks Jimmy. Hugs and kissess from the Philippines. :)
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    Jan 8 2014: Totally disagree.

    The web has become the historian for our collective lives. At no time in history has there been such an engine of remembrance as we have now. I agree that there should be a central death registry that social media and the rest of the web can access to memorialize and individual, but WE SHOULD NEVER remove them from our collective history! A Facebook account becomes a living memorial to the passing of a person in a way a tombstone could never become. The ability of people to become friends with their past loved ones and friends is an ongoing act of tribute and esteme, with the ability to instantly visit them in a way no other culture has ever created.

    The author Toni Morison coined the concept of "Rememory" as:
    "Morrison uses the word rememory to mean the act of remembering a memory. This rememory is when a memory is revisited, whether physically or mentally. Yet the word is not a verb but a noun. It is an actual thing, person or a place that takes on the existence of a noun. When Sethe explains rememory to Denver, she states, If a house burns down, it's gone, but the place-the picture of it-stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around there outside my head. I mean, even if I don't think about it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there."

    Thus, I personally am involved in a new website is being launched (shameless plug for VC) - in time for Memorial Day - called www.Rememorybook.com for the purpose of retaining - forever if that is commercially viable - a way for families to forever remember or rememory their lost souls. This was actually a concept of an old friend Cliff Middleton over 12 years ago, and I am finally (hopefully) able to see it a reality.

    So, I for one do not believe we should ever blanketly erase those that pass. That is revisionism in it's worst form.

    Tim
  • Jan 8 2014: Yes and No

    1. It should be up to the individual to make the decision - some people have all their personal papers destroyed and some do not.
    2. anything published must be kept, i.e. all things posted on a public forum can not be deleted. Think of an article in a magazine analogy or a journal, you can not destroy that reference.
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    Jan 7 2014: I don't agree with your suggestion. The question is, according to your line of thinking, why just digital cremation ?? Why not cremation of all the dead person's history ?? What about cremation of his/her writings, papers, books, letters, records, school grades, degrees, achievements and so on ?? I just want to show that your suggestion does not make sense. Perhaps, only what you say about the usernames makes some sense. But with other digital records, like Facebook, or even TED discussions and alike, they can be taken as some memories of a dead person and they, in my view, are very wanted and there's no need nor reason to delete them.
  • Jan 7 2014: Why, is cyber space getting full?

    Many times the digital footprint is like a memorial to the person. Leave them alone.
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    Jan 7 2014: A few thoughts on this:

    1. The digital remnants of the deceased become something of a memorial for friends and family. People will cling to the Facebook page of their lost loved one. If an automated terminator swung by to do "garbage collection", without consent, it might be detrimental for them.

    2. There is no digital commons that we can treat as a public space in the jurisdiction of public services. Everything in "the cloud" is on a company's server, and owned by that company. (Bruce Schneier wrote an excellent article on this - http://www.wired.com/opinion/2012/11/feudal-security/). For them, our data is money, however mundane that data may seem to us. There's a reason these companies are collecting as much of it as they can, which brings us to #3...

    3. This data is invaluable for future generations. Ubar T Dmar stated below, "That's like once again burning the library of Alexandria.". However mundane people feel their daily doings are today, the truth is, they're writing a story of immense historical significance. The details of their life will be invaluable for collective statistics and studies, as well as on an individual level. I don't doubt that descendants will study their ancestors lives in detail for thousands of years to come.

    The only viable option that I can see, is for one to be conscious of their electronic footprint. People should be consciously aware of what they're sharing, both knowingly and unknowingly, and with who. And this is certainly easier said than done.
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    Jan 7 2014: That's like once again burning the library of Alexandria.
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    Jan 4 2014: No. The existence of dead friends on facebook is like an tangible afterlife
  • Jan 4 2014: Well this idea seems solid and I truly Support the idea Mr Ashutosh Agrawal is trying to draw our attention but i think
    in the future The digital word will have a more flexible storage system. Meaning space won't be an issue and non active accounts would be deleted making more room for new users, I believe a system would be made in which automatically deletes users who aren't constantly on the log catalog.
  • Jan 4 2014: Interesting. Thank you, Jimmy. But I was thinking of digital memorial building (columbarium). On the homepage there will be Digital Urn with the deceased person's name on it. What do you think?
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      Jan 4 2014: Well, Facebook already has the ability to have an account turn into a memorial account or for relatives to be able to delete it. I don't know about other companies but I think that most would comply to this.

      Facebook, Report a Deceased Person: https://www.facebook.com/help/408583372511972/
    • Jan 16 2014: In other words, have historical sources limited to what they want others to hear, not what the world was actually like. A totalitarian dictator's dream.
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    Jan 4 2014: Why ? They may have left something beautiful for us to enjoy or a wisdom for us to consider.
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      Jan 4 2014: That is precisely what I'm thinking Helen! For me this would be the equivalent of burning all the old diaries that "are of no historical value"... But who's to decide that?
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    Jan 2 2014: I'd like to inform/remind everyone here that we all signed a user agreement when we signed up here, it consists of the Terms of Use and the Privacy Policy.

    Here's an abstract from the privacy policy:

    "We offer you opportunities to engage in public activities on TED.com. "Public activities" are any actions you take that are designed to be visible to other users, including comments, conversations, recommendations and ratings. If you choose to engage in public activities, you should be aware that any personal information you submit there can be read, collected or used by other users of these areas, and could be used to send you unsolicited messages.

    We are not responsible for the personally identifiable information you choose to submit in these forums, and we have no responsibility to publish, remove or edit any of your comments, conversations or other content. For more information, see the TED.com Terms of Use.

    When you share or recommend any TED.com content using your Facebook profile, your action is governed by Facebook’s privacy policy. Likewise, when you share or recommend any TED.com content through other social media outlets, your actions are governed by their privacy policies."

    You have read the contract that you signed, right? http://www.ted.com/privacy
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      Jan 3 2014: Jimmy,
      I never read those things... Written in legal and I barely do English.

      Since I started using bulletin boards in the early 80s, I have known that anything I put online is equivalent to going to the flagpole in the center of the town square with a megaphone yelling out. Only now, my voice carries around the world. If the TED people want to put my ranting's on line so be it. If they decide not to, so what. If I decide not to, so what.

      In the words of my youngest granddaughter, " I don't want to be bothered with things I don't want to be bothered by".
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        Jan 3 2014: Mike,

        That you never read them is no excuse in today's world. Just like if you never read the fine print of the bank loan that you may have gotten. And that is what the User Agreement is, the fine print of websites.

        I'm not saying that it's right, but we don't get to fight things after we sign them.

        And as you say, you've known since the 80's what this is the equivalent of. I can for instance choose to write down (copy) everything that you yell out through that megaphone and then share it with whom ever I want (the entire world for example) like stated in the contract that you didn't read, but still signed.

        If you decide not to use the different online services then no one (online) can copy that, that's what. If you however do, then anyone can copy it. You are in no way forced to get on this boat if you don't like where it's going, and if you're aboard you can choose to step off at any time, that seems kind of fair to me.

        And just like I'm able to have the whole world library of the 19th century in my little hard drive the people of the future will be able to store what's today on the entire web in the same volume size. If you put it in print, and one of those prints escape from your hands then anyone can pick it up and do whatever with it, like it has always been, everything is just quantified today.

        And why would she be bothered? Is she bothered by all the books that were ever written that she doesn't care to read? It's the same for the things put here, basically no one is going to care the slightest, it may be used for research but that's it.
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          Jan 3 2014: The point is Jimmy, that these "user agreements" are CYA documents prepared by lawyers to cover this website... or any other web site.

          I say, that when we are using these sites, we are giving up all but the most flagrant violation of our rights.

          Let everyone one know that when riding the internet, we are all Lady Godiva!!!
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        Jan 4 2014: Everyone knows this Mike, or they really haven't been paying any attention at all to what people have been saying about the internet for the last three decades. You've known since the 80's...
      • Jan 7 2014: It would be so easy to take advantage of the fact that most people don't read T&C and such. I can just imagine...

        We are not responsible for the liability of all that jazz BY THE WAY WE OWN YOUR SOUL!

        Totally unnoticed.
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    Jan 1 2014: It's not possible, what goes on the web is free for anyone to archive. And with the Internet Archive you can't really delete anything.

    Neither would I like to, this is part of my legacy.
    • Jan 2 2014: I agree with the legacy part but there should be a way for us to delete stuff we no longer want on the internet like old out of date web pages and information.
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        Jan 2 2014: Who decides what we want? Like Bryan pointed out, should we also burn the books and diaries of the deceased?
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        Jan 2 2014: If you leave very specific instructions yes. but it's not your property when you have died, it becomes the property of your relatives (with physical stuff) and the property of companies with the digital... We did sign the user-agreement after all... It is their property.
        • Jan 2 2014: Yea we signed all right, they made us an offer we could not refuse! With a gun to our head they explained that either our signature or our brains will be on the paper.
          "Man’s law is not just, it is just law"- Keith W Henline
  • Jan 31 2014: This is a great idea in theory, but to put it to use you would have to get approval by the deceased person family or have a set up prior to death you can pre pay and have this taken care of at your said time of death. Currently deceased people have information online if you look in certain websites like ancestry.com. Pros and cons of that is you can find love ones and look up your deceased love ones for a family tree. Cons are that your family info is there for the whole cyber world to look at. I think the social security system has improved greatly in the past several years, but we still have theft online and hackers that can buy and steal our information while we are alive and after we die. So I think your idea is great if it was something that can be offered to the family of the deceased at the time of death or prior. I would think this could be a good business to implement with funeral homes. Death is a hard time for families and thinking about online security after their loved ones are deceased would be the last thing they are thinking about.
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    Jan 31 2014: The dark web, deep web, and NSA's copy of the web over time will keep information that can not really ever be deleted.

    I think the point of a cremation is that it is final - nothing left. I don't think that's possible in the digital world today, in the general case.
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    Jan 8 2014: If I really want to know what I think or what I wrote I can always get ahold of NSA, FBI, Home Land Security, CIA, Treasury and other Big Brother agencies to find out about me. They have terra X giga X mega X all sorts of bites on all of us.

    Wonder if they ever erase that data .... so in the end does it make a difference?

    Just wondering ..... Bob.
  • Jan 7 2014: Given the mixed opinions on the matter I think it would be a good idea to have the option for digital cremation. While I don't like the idea of referencing my death details every time I sign up to something, it could very well remind me of my mortality which has its advantages.

    What I really don't want to see is the emergence of another industry to be exploited. I'm not sure what the current death industry has explored on the digital side of things but I'd hate to log in to facebook and see some hokey ad that wants me to buy into their DC scheme.

    But there it is, for me. It should be up to the individual whether they want to be digitally cremated or digitally buried. I don't know if it's already in place in systems like the web archive but there should be organization of what we keep and what we get rid of, just like in literature.
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    Jan 5 2014: Thanks for the thumbs up,Jimmy. I consider that a real complement.
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    Jan 5 2014: I guessonly the person who owns the material would decide what to do. I had a neighbor who lived to be 102 yrs old. He was sharp as a tack and we asked him to record the stories of past years for posterity but he did not want to talk into a mike. Sad !!!
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    Jan 4 2014: /
    Hi Ashutosh
    Being "secure in papers and personal effects" is arguably an old concept, but it has faded rapidly as GPS tracking and recording devices became ubiquitous. I really have no wish to be traced or have my life online be purely up for grabs.
    It seems this digital cremation would afford some chance at regaining privacy.
    I would wish to do that now and regain something like privacy as it used to be perceived.

    -Mark
    • Jan 16 2014: If you're dead, "privacy" is irrelevant. Why not demand that all books be burnt as soon as the author dies?
  • Jan 3 2014: If you plan to Digitally Cremate(DC), I'll plan to put up a site where those DC can be stored and their Digital imparts can still be remembered. :)
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    Jan 3 2014: This is an excellent idea for things such as bank accounts, credit accounts, advertising, etc. When someone dies, their loved ones, often their S.O., is left with the task of trying to remove and close all sorts of digital accounts.

    However, I think some things should remain, even after a person is gone. For example, if I've posted ideas on a forum such as this and am hit by a bus tomorrow, I still want those ideas to remain.
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    Jan 3 2014: Interesting idea, Ashutosh. I like the idea of digital cremation of my personal accounts such as email, facebook, linkedin, etc. These are web accounts that I consider private, different from those in the form of blogs or public space such as TED Conversation. As when we can set an automated response when we go on vacation, I thought it could be useful to have something similar to inform people that "I am forever out of reach." Although I don't think I would be comfortable of the idea having another individual (or two) to have that power other than me - which is of course, close to impossible.

    In a highly digitized country it's probably possible to have such "digital cremator" system as you suggested (I'm imagining a country that has an e-system for registering everything from birth to death). But at the very least, for the sake of cleaning the digital space, I think some providers already have such cleaning system - e.g. I was informed that my account no longer existed when I tried to access a hotmail account I haven't used in years. This is a different thing from cleaning up the space because the owner has passed away though.
    • Jan 16 2014: If all "private" information was destroyed upon death for the last ten thousand years and only "public" information was not destroyed, what would be left? Nothing but a propaganda view of human life and history.
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        Jan 17 2014: Interesting take, Bryan. If such system were to exist, I think each individual should have the right to chose whether to release their personal information and leave it in the system, or to have it cremated.
        I for one don't see any reasons why the information I deem as private in life, I would want everyone to access it in death.
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          Jan 17 2014: You have the choice Dewi. Don't use the internet.

          If I saved this comment that you made, how would you "cremate" it from my laptop?

          Since it's all public I can go to your profile, copy all of your comments and print a book if I wished.
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        Jan 17 2014: Hi Jimmy, if you carefully read my original comment once again, you'll notice I'm referring to the cremation of personal accounts. Things I make public will remain public, of course, just as good as any books ever published.
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    Jan 2 2014: I like the idea of erasing my digital data as my physical remains. For example, I have made... a thousand? ... comments on TED Conversations. I don't think any of them are worth the kilobyte they will occupy... in fact, I am sure.

    Here is my point. Just because, we can store some nearly infinite amount of data, why should we? Is the cumulative value worth the expense? Now, there is certain information that well should be set in data stone. Information that is available for our descendants in a thousand years, would give them insight in our culture and accomplishments.

    It is not impossible that some force of nature or some stupid mistake by mankind can return man to caveman conditions, numbers and intellect. In fact, it's probable.

    So, do we want future archeologist to wade through all those facebook posts or even TED conversations. I would believe they would find modern man... vain and insipid.
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      Jan 2 2014: What if some of your great-great-great-great grand children would like to know who you were a bit more, wouldn't it be great if the could go to the TED Conversatons archive for example? I know that I'd like to be able to do that with my ancestors.
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        Jan 2 2014: Jimmy,
        If your ancestor was Eric the Great, I could understand your excitement.

        My grandfathers were a sulfur miner and a indentured field hand for a Spanish nobleman. So, if one of my descendants to the 40th generation was interested in my musings on TED, I would suspect he had too much time on his hands.
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          Jan 2 2014: Mike,

          I don't believe in the "too much time" concept... Doesn't us having this conversation show that we have too much time? But it may still be rewarding.

          I'd rather read about the more non-sensational aspects to get insights into how life really was back then...

          It's like listening to my grandmothers stories, they are of no historic value for the world but they have given me many insights.
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        Jan 3 2014: You liked listening to Grandma because she has a persona to relate to. She probably made you cookies to eat as she tells her stories. My wife does that to our grandchildren.
        But a millennium from now? I am sure that there would be some person that would provide archeologist some insight to our times. It's that I don't believe I would be one of them.
        Why occupy space just because we got the space?
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          Jan 4 2014: I like reading "trivial" diaries and such things from the past that I have no relation to, no just grandmas stuff.

          And it doesn't take any significant space at all. As I've said the whole internet of today will be the equivalent to what the whole world library was a hundred years ago, I'm able to store almost all of it in something that is smaller than my (not thick) wallet.
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        Jan 4 2014: Again, why occupy space just because there is space.
        If you or anyone has some noteworthy information to pass on.. pass it on.
        I don't think as of now I have anything noteworthy...when you add up all the inane comments on Facebook, and Twitter and and and and even on TED conversations, subtract that from all the data on the internet... I am sure the balance would fit on an old 3.5 disk. We have flooded the Internet with terabytes of nonsense,
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          Jan 4 2014: Again, it won't take much space. And we are not to decide what is noteworthy, the ones coming after us are.

          You seem to think that it's mostly junk out there, but these are reflections of people and that might be important to people in the future.

          I don't think that we'll get anywhere here Mike, care to agree to disagree?
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        Jan 5 2014: You probably are right on this one, Jimmy.
        Our responses reflect our persona. I am mostly pragmatic, with a strong sense of the individual. I see value in effort and outcome.
        You, in my view, hold a broader view of society.
        However, I will explain my view as I haven't before. I look at the Roman Empire. Two millennium in the past. When we look at their accomplishments, things they did, that we still can hardly match; road systems, water systems, they invented a better concrete we can't reproduce, etc., etc. When we read the musing of their society, we lose respect at the waste and the decadence. I would not like some historian reading my .... FB, Twitter, whatever and judging my waste and decadence. That is all I was saying....
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    Jan 2 2014: When a person dies, their atoms are not erased but recycled and their ecological impact also reverberates unerased. Their children and wordly affairs continue to impact society from genetic to gross mechanical levels. They are able to dictate the conduct of the lives of their heirs via wills and trusts. Their 'legacy' lives on in the minds and memories of those they impacted upon.

    Should we not accord their electronic footprint the same status? I believe we must. To erase their digital footprint is to disrespect the revolutionary advancements that electronic communication and data storage have brought us by according it the same status as a vehicle for the person - the body. The body is just a vehicle like their computers and other electronic hardware interfaces. Destroy those if you want, but their electronic legacy is the property of the e-world not theirs. And just as they must exercise responsibility in dispensing their worldly duties and actions so to must each individual understand and respect their e-legacy and acknowledge that it will live on long after them.
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    Jan 1 2014: well one should not do this . its..good the person still lives in his work..(COMMENTS,articles,vids,pics) etc... its like persons last REMAINS and should be preserved...
  • Dec 31 2013: Interesting idea. Though I think it wouldn't be a priority at the time of lose, and there's a good chance it would be forgotten after. Then there's the problem of personal data that the deceased would prefer to stay personal.

    A simpler solution would be to create renewable digital information. In other words digital data would have an expiry date. This would wipe clean information after a predetermined length of time. It would be up to the user to extend the period of time. This way no one would have to go through their personal information and no one would have to be a digital sleuth to track it down.

    I imagine when mobile digital monitoring of our vital statistics becomes common place the solution would be even simpler. The heart stops, an eradication program is initiated wiping out all data created by the individual. Of course this would also create a data preservation industry.

    [ afjdjdxjgjgxjjx@gmail.com ... darn I have an alphabet soup company and I wanted to use that email]