Digital Afterlife and Digital Legacy

re:publica 2015
Business & Innovation


Approximately 1/30 of all Facebook-Accounts already belong to deceased users and the numbers are rising. About 10.000 Facebook users die every day. And Facebook, of course, is not the only relevant platform. Death has long since arrived online – but how should we handle it? What happens with the digital legacy of a user? Does the digital death always follow the physical death?


Probably all of us have already been confronted with the topic of death on the Internet. After the death of a loved one we look up online what we are supposed to do in such a situation. Condolences are often expressed online (especially if the deceased is only distant acquaintance), and posted in social media. These are all interesting aspects of the digital death, which I’ll consider in my talk. But what I find particularly interesting is a different dimension of the digital afterlife. A dimension that affects a growing proportion of society, but is only consciously considered by very few. An issue that affects everyone who uses online services and enters personal information there. What happens to this information after we die? Is the physical death necessarily followed by the digital death?

I could say – “I don’t care what happens to my digital accounts after I die, I’m dead anyway”. But it’s not that easy. What would happen if I would die tomorrow? As I’m not married, my parents would be the ones, who would have to deal with it. And they are definitely not “digital natives”. They wouldn’t have a clue which services I used to use and how to deal with them after I die. They wouldn’t know about my preferences either: would I have wanted everything to disappear? Would I prefer a “memorial profile” (which is for example possible on Facebook)? Or maybe I would have just liked everything to stay as is? If I don’t want my parents to have one more thing to deal with (as if the death of their child wasn’t enough) – maybe I should take care of it while I’m still alive?

But how? There are already different services trying to help users to manage their digital afterlife. But they struggle. Why?

  • People just don’t want to deal with their own death – especially while being young and healthy;
  • It’s difficult to get user feedback (for example conduct user tests) in the context of death;
  • It’s difficult to verify the death of the user – in a way which is both user-friendly and highly secure;
  • There are no universal standards and regulations: neither for reporting the death of the user nor for creating a last will for digital data.


In my talk I will address these and other questions and constraints and provide answers and recommendations: based on research and the learning from the digital afterlife project I’m currently working on.


Ignite Talk


Mittwoch, 6. Mai 2015 - 19:15 bis 19:45