Veronica Roberts

Mapping your digital footprint

The most popular social network, Facebook, is now a publicly traded company. Much ado was made of this IPO and its shares but not a whisper on whether this changes the legality of millions of users personal information stored in its digital archives.The rules are not very transparent in the cyber world and many users do not have a clue what is done with those huge amount of very personal information they willingly post online. When you opened that account, did you read the fine-print?

Which brings up this little mulled-over question: What happens to that information after you die? Who owns it now and who will have access to it then? I know millions of years of evolution have hard-wired us to suppress our mortality for no one wants to think of that somber little detail: We are here only temporarily.

Our digital "footprint" will outlive us. In fact, once our personal info enters cyberspace, it might as well be floating in the vast outerspace of the universe for it is almost "erase-resistant." Pressing the delete button does not completely erase our online social network data. Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo and others basically have us even in the after-life.

When we think we have deleted posts, status updates, tweets and accounts, we haven't. Our information is simply de-activated or moved "out of sight." When you discard an old PC, the hard-drive still has all your data stored unless you physically smash that harddrive to smithereens. Scammers can collect that old computer from the garbage and retrieve all your personal info still on there. However even if you destroy the hard-drive, the wide spawn of intricate networks known as the World Wide Web still holds all your online personal info and browsing history.

Ever wondered how Facebook CEO, the young Mark Zuckerberg, became a billionaire at 23? He hasn't mass-produced any major products. Well, except you. You and the more than 250 million users who frequently post personal info through status and profile updates, where you went to school, live, work, interests, what you read, your political ideology, marital status, phone numbers, email and albums of pictures/videos of yourself and family members.

Facebook is not the only hoarder of your personal data. Google is competing for the same thing:you. In fact, wherever you go online, including email, banking and shopping, all gather and document your digital footprint.

Your digital life after death:Who has access to it?

Privacy seems a relic of the distant past, but the deep irony is Facebook, Google and other sites, despite peddling users info, would not release it to your loved ones if you die. If you want them to, have you thought of how your family can get past their privacy laws? Social networks fighting to protect your privacy after death, when they make a living exploiting it while you're alive, sounds like an oxymoron right? In the real world, a will or other legal document can clearly leave instructions on what you want done with your earthly possessions however big or small they might be But in the digital world things aren't run that seamlessly.

According to an article by Jessica Hopper at Rock Center, one family learned this agonizing fact when their 21-year-old son Benjamin Stassen committed suicide almost two years ago. The digital giants refused parents Helen and Jay access to their son's account as they desperately tried to find answers to why their son, a college student, suddenly took his life. They wanted answers, some kind of closure for he didn't leave behind a note and most young people use social media to 'talk,' express themselves, blog about--well just about any and everything. Parents might be shocked at what their children reveal online and won't to them.

The Stassens were shocked when they encountered a brick wall surrounding their son's accounts and emails and had to take Facebook and Google to court. Eventually Google relented and granted them entry to Benjamin's Gmail but they have yet to see all of his Facebook account. The grieving parents saw some of his profile through their other son being online friends with Benjamin. Private messages, notes and other areas not seen by "friends," are still off limit as they continue to battle Facebook.

The social network says their policy does not allow relatives, including immediate family members, access to your account even after death. The World Wide Web has advanced so fast that legislation has not kept up with the vast murkiness that is life online. This opens the door to numerous scams as well as identity theft and Facebook, Google and Twitter say they cannot always distinguish between fake or real family asking for access. Hence the strict account privacy policy.

Which begs the question:would you want your loved ones to have access to your private online accounts if or should I say, when you die? Sorry, I know it's uncomfortably ghoulish and morbid to think of such things as your mortality, but somebody has to ask the tough, unpleasant question, right?

Read about the Stassens and more by clicking link below: