Between remembered and forgotten: Consumers faced with digital death
Alexandre Plourde, Project Administrator
What control do consumers have over their digital identity after their death? How can the living carry out the deceased’s wishes in practice? What should you do if no wishes were expressed concerning personal information? How do you establish the difficult balance between the right to be forgotten and digital memory? Option consommateurs has considered these issues as part of its research.
Canadians are among the largest users of the Internet in the world. As a result, when they navigate the Web, they leave behind a considerable amount of personal information throughout their lives. In many cases, when someone dies, this digital imprint lasts indefinitely online.
Option consommateurs’ research reveals that the policies of businesses that host Canadians’ data generally stipulate that their users’ accounts will remain active as long as the business has not been notified of the death, according to their procedures. Also, Option consommateurs’ research shows that only some online businesses provide mechanisms that allow consumers to know what will happen to their data after their death. Most maintain significant discretion concerning requests for deletion or access from loves ones of the deceased. In practice, the latter will often prefer to bypass businesses’ procedures at the risk of running afoul of the law or service use conditions.
According to Option consommateurs, the law that applies to digital death is an area full of uncertainties. Canadian laws greatly restrict access to a deceased’s personal information. Applying estate law to a person’s data to allow their heirs to receive a copy raises a number of conceptual challenges. Moreover, the law does not expressly outline the possibility for consumers to issue instructions on what they wish to have happen to their data after their death. To deal with these uncertainties, solutions developed in France and the United States could, according to Option consommateurs, could well serve as a model for Canadian legislators.
Project deliverables are available in the following language(s):
OPC Funded Project
This project received funding support through the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Contributions Program. The opinions expressed in the summary and report(s) are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Summaries have been provided by the project authors. Please note that the projects appear in their language of origin.
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