What happens to your online data when you die?

Taking inventory of a loved one’s belongings at the time of their death can be a daunting task, even if they have prepared instructions. With much of our collected items now living online on a server owned by big tech – photos, records, documents, journals, calendars – it can be especially difficult to access it all without fingerprints or passwords. owner pass.

Where it used to be that getting this kind of access could require lawyers and lengthy approval processes, some platforms are starting to incorporate tools that allow you to stipulate what happens to your belongings in the event of your death. Apple is the newest, rolling out its Digital Legacy feature last month.

Nowadays, much of our identity and data is stored in the cloud.Credit:iStock

In the privacy settings of an Apple device, you can now designate a “former contact” to receive a special code. If you die, they can send that code along with a death certificate to Apple to gain access to anything you’ve stored in iCloud; photos, notes, mail, contacts, calendars, files, memos, health data, device backups and more.

There’s no way to choose specific stored data that should go to specific people, or to hide things that you’d really prefer your loved ones not to see; Apple has prioritized simplicity here so that once you set it up, your old contact will get whatever is stored in your iCloud.

That’s not to say Apple’s new feature is a foolproof way to make sure your loved ones can access all your stuff when you die. It’s more like a tool that removes some barriers Apple created that loved ones might otherwise face to prove who they are and what you wanted.

Apple's Digital Legacy feature makes it relatively easy for a loved one to get everything you've stored in iCloud.

Apple’s Digital Legacy feature makes it relatively easy for a loved one to get everything you’ve stored in iCloud.Credit:

One limitation is that if your iPhone is password protected, there is no way for your family to break in even if you named them as a legacy contact. Passcodes on iPhones are protected by encryption, so even with Apple’s help, the best they can do is erase the phone again and hope that the important data has been saved in the cloud.

Account names and passwords saved on your devices using Apple Keychain also cannot be retrieved by a former contact, which means they won’t necessarily be able to take control of your Netflix accounts or PayPal for example.

In both cases, it’s best to put important codes and passwords (or your password manager’s master key) in a safe place where loved ones can find them. Even putting them in a note that’s backed up to iCloud would work.

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