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Why some older adults are losing their digital legacy

What happens to our digital footprint when we die? Many older Australians aren’t sure.

A survey of people aged 65 and older revealed a lack of understanding about what happens to family photos, social media accounts and other digital possessions after death.

Most respondents assumed that ownership would automatically pass on to their children or heirs with the computer or smartphone they used to access a service like Facebook, Apple iCloud or Google Photos.

As participants put it:

I thought that [my digital possessions] were part of my estate, and they would automatically go to my children. I mean I have got a lot of ancestry stuff. I have got lots of family history and so I thought that’s my estate and goes to them automatically.

“Well what I thought was, when I die, my Executor will have access to my computer, my iPad and my iPhone and anything else which is digital.”

However, family photos and other elements of seniors’ digital legacies are being lost because “it’s not as simple as just bequeathing those photos, music, books or even video games to someone,” said researcher Derani Dissanayake said.

Dissanayake said there are enormous inconsistencies in how technology platforms treat the death of their users and digital assets – some delete digital footprints after a certain period of time, while others allow next of kin to access some data.

The Edith Cowan University Master of Computer Science student would like to see across-the-board legislation to facilitate the transfer and access of digital content of a deceased person’s estate by a nominated heir.

“As well as making transfer easier, legislation should allow Australians to indicate whether their information, particularly on social media platforms, is deleted or memorialised upon their death,” she said.

Aged Care Insite spoke with Dissanayake to learn more.

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