Whose Data is it Anyway? Of Death and Trust

Over the past few months we have written several articles about trust. Our conclusion is that operators should use their ‘trusted’ relationship with their customers to guide them through the digital world. By building trust with their customers – particularly in Europe – customers will share more and more of their data and realize the benefits of doing so. Demand too much information too quickly and the trust dies.

The problem is that no-one else cares. You ‘buy’ something from iTunes and unless you agree to the terms and conditions you cannot proceed. Not really a choice, then. And when you agree to the Ts & Cs do you read them? Then you hear stories of Bruce Willis considering taking Apple to court because he discovered he cannot leave his iTunes music collection to his kids. When he dies, it belongs to Apple. Facebook’s privacy terms and conditions are longer than the US Government’s. Not a particularly social network then. And when you share something on Facebook, apparently it becomes their property.

Sorry, but that is just plain wrong.

Worse still, try closing down an email or social network account when someone dies. It isn’t just a question of scanning and sending proof that they are dead and proof that you are their Executor. You have to get a Court Order and a small army of lawyers. Meanwhile, dead people’s email accounts are being hacked and loved ones are receiving spam emails from dead relatives. Scary.


In the old days, when someone died, the Executor would go through that person’s correspondence and sort things out. There is no question that the photos, letters, scrapbooks and other memories belong to the dead person’s estate. Apparently this is not the case in the digital world.


I am not entirely sure what can be done about it, but surely there should be clearer choices? Certainly there should be education about including your digital life in your digital Will. And digital service providers should respect the wishes of the deceased, without needing Court Orders to close a dead person’s account.

What can be done about ownership of digital things that you ‘buy’ is not so clear.

One thing is for sure. This issue is about to get a lot of publicity and it will get a lot of people very angry. And that will erode our trust in the digital world at the exact moment when we are beginning to suffer from digital exhaustion. There is a digital backlash. We are already taking digital breaks because we get so immersed in our digital lives we forget our real ones.

Perhaps the collective might of the operator community can force change or help regulators force change. If not, then their role as a trusted partner in the digital world is simply not viable.



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About Alex Leslie 400 Articles
Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet.

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