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Adam Ostrow

Executive Editor, Mashable


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LIVE CHAT With Adam Ostrow: What should happen to your digital identity after you die?

The average social media user will create hundreds of thousands of pieces of content in their lifetime. Already, this is changing the way we remember our loved ones and creating a legacy that is much different than that of any previous generation.

At the same time, technology's ability to understand vast amounts of data is expanding exponentially, and in the long run, enabling the possibility of leveraging our social media footprint to create a version of us that can live on long after we're gone.

What do you want to have happen to your digital identity after you die? Would you give an AI permission to post content and interact online after your death? Why or why not?

ADMIN UPDATE: This LIVE CHAT will open on August 9, 2011 at 2PM EST/ 5PM PST.


Closing Statement from Adam Ostrow

A few thoughts in closing:

(1) There's a large interest in people assigning an executor for their digital assets after they die. A number of startups already serve this need. One issue with this though -- what happens when the services noted in the will change, close, get acquired, etc? That will create similar issues to the ambiguous wills of today.

(2) Lots of questions about whether or not the complete recreation of ones self, which I forecast towards the end of my talk, could make it more challenging to find closure. Outside of that, however, it at the very least seems like an intriguing opportunity for future generations to get to know their ancestors.

(3) In thinking about this topic, it's important to remember that the social media tools of today are incredibly primitive compared to what we'll be using in the future. The type of data we'll be capturing 5, 10 or 50 years from now is what's needed to make an AI-powered scenario realistic.

(4) Thanks to those that shared their personal stories of already dealing with these issues. It's a huge help in thinking about the topic going forward.

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  • Aug 9 2011: My fiancee passed away very tragically this past March. As we shared everything digitally, professionally and creatively, he had complete access to my accounts - passwords etc - and I to his. His family asked for access to his accounts to which, I didn't hesitate to give them as I had no idea it would backfire.

    They then used his Facebook account to slander and libel me online and blocked me as well as many of our mutual friends from his account, so I couldn't see what they were posting about me - using HIS account. Due to FB's inherent lack of customer service and response, my only option was to request to memorialize his account, which effectively locked it so they couldn't abuse it. However, now all of his friends they defriended cannot view his wall and post memories to share with so many others that are still on his friends list that love him. Because of the blocking, on both sides for their personal accounts, I can't see what they may be posting more about me on his fan page I created for him.

    As he was a creative and talented comedian, actor and filmmaker, now something that could have been used to carry on his legacy, has been misused and abused and used as a weapon. The only thing I didn't give them access to was his blog and like page (thankfully), which I still manage and post things that I find or other friends share with me. I sincerely doubt he ever would have approved of this and it is painful to think about, but I continue on trying to preserve and share the legacy of his creative genius and beautiful sweet soul.
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      Aug 9 2011: Thanks for sharing your story. I think it highlights the importance of the services that are cropping out that let you decide what happens to your accounts after you die -- essentially a will for your digital assets. Not something that's pleasant to think about, but a growing necessity given the way our society is evolving.
      • Aug 9 2011: I love the concept of a digital will for your assets. I can foresee this becoming a new feature in our product. Being able to choose how you pass on your data is a critical issue in today's society, and I only predict that this issue will rise to greater importance as time goes on.
        • Aug 9 2011: I wish we had done a digital will now for sure, but because I was the tech savvy one, he probably just assumed I would take care of it like I always did... until all of this mess started a month after he passed. And because we weren't married, I have no legal recourse.
      • Aug 9 2011: Hopefully others will learn from my experience and will consider the digital will. Grieving is painful enough then having to deal with cruel people is not fun.
        • Aug 9 2011: Sorry what happened to you. You shouldn't bear that cruelty. Especially you. It's not a case of delete all is social life he had. I bet you knew him better than anyone in life and what you decided to do would go according to his will. It's a matter of not only respecting you but also him. It's reaaly a shame what's happening. But thank you for sharing.
    • Aug 9 2011: Wow Katherine. I'm so sorry. That must have been really painful.
      • Aug 9 2011: Thank you Joanna. It was. Still in "limbo" about it too as I don't know where they may be "coming from" next. They even used his Gmail account to "follow me" on Google Buzz and then say mean things to me. I figure that all I can do is ignore them. It's really only coming from one person in the family who is controlling his estate, but no one is doing anything to defend me I am assuming because none of them ever got to know me due to his distant relationship with them. It's a nightmare.

        ...and funny thing is, I haven't asked for a nickel. I might be able to understand if this was about money, but I don't want a cent. Just want him to be remembered the way he would have wanted to be.
        • Aug 9 2011: Well, it's a bit like that. I know it sucks but let it be and ignore it. You don't have to do anything when you've done nothing. :S
          Some people...you just can't understand. Just can't...understand. What can we think?!

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