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“People say we die twice: when we physically die, and when no one remembers who we were. However, nowadays, we die three times: when we physically die, when no one remembers who we were, and when you don’t come up in search engine results anymore.” – Paul Wiseall, founder of Bristol-based startup Death.io, was one of the speakers at this year’s TEDxBristol event, where he talked about what happens to our digital content after we die.

There seems to currently be quite a lot of focus on properly designing ends, whether that is the end of a digital experience, of an online shopping process, or even our own end as a physical being:

🎙  Joe Macleod delivered an excellent workshop about ‘Designing ends’ at this year’s UX Bristol.

🎙  The Bristol UX community discussed this topic at UCD Bristol back in July.

🎙  Dave McRobbie talked about it in his talk ‘The need for humane tech’ at Bath Digital Festival.

According to Joe Macleod, endings can actually “help businesses align with new business models, increase consumer engagement, raise customer satisfaction, broaden business influence, pre-empt legislation, and maximise sustainability.” Entertainment giant Netflix are a big proponent of this approach: “we are proud of the no-hassle online cancellation. Members can leave when they want and come back when they want.” The result? They hit 118 million subscribers in 2018, up from 94 million the previous year, with a customer satisfaction rating of 78%.

However, even Joe recognises that running a business that helps other businesses create customer-ending experiences sounds counter-intuitive. And, just like some product creators and companies don’t see the point in designing positive offboarding experiences, we all find it difficult to design our own end. However, “with digital life must come digital death,” Paul says.

The future of our digital selves

“Your second [digital] life will outlive you. This is a privilege. Thirty years ago, when you died, you would leave little behind, but we all have a story to tell and that is why our digital lives are important.”

So, what happens to your online life after you die? What happens to the dozens of digital accounts you currently own (the average user has 90 accounts, from email platforms to apps) and the content they hold?

According to Paul, “if you don’t curate your content before your death, it will look messy, like a Jackson Pollock painting. You are creating a universe of you. And, just like the universe, it is expanding.”

What about the current data protection legislation? – you may ask. “Digital wealth is not treated like regular property. When alive, GDPR and other laws protect us, but these laws only apply to the living, Paul explained. Not having a digital will means that your data is more likely to get hacked and stolen: this could lead to your Twitter account being hacked and used for advertising purposes or, taken to the extreme, your face and voice could be stolen to create deepfakes. And “this being the age of the internet, it’s usually used for porn,” Paul added.

Sounds like science fiction, but it’s far from that; deepfakes are all over the internet nowadays. For example, Audrey Hepburn was brought back to life a couple of years back to sell chocolate on TV, and there are talks about resurrecting James Dean through CGI to star in a new movie – but how ethical is this?

Paul’s goal is to help people navigate this though subject – after all, who wants to plan their own death? – through Death.io. This includes preparing a digital will and finding out how to safely share it with your next of kin and instructing them on how to proceed, among other topics. The Death.io blog also has a lot of useful tips on topics like what to do about your cryptocurrency when you pass away, online grief communities, and a lot more.

 


 

Maria Santos, Head of Marketing and Data Protection

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