‘Tech platforms haven’t been designed to think about death’: meet the expert on what happens online when we die

  • September 30, 2023
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Our digital profiles and possessions are ever-expanding, but what happens to them after our deaths? Tech companies are yet to offer a satisfactory solution, says the technology researcher Tamara Kneese

Tamara Kneese studies how people experience technology. She is a senior researcher at New York-based nonprofit Data & Society Research Institute. Her new book, Death Glitch, examines what happens to our digital belongings when we die, and argues that tech companies need to improve how they deal with death on their platforms for the sake of all our digital posterity.

The posthumous fate of our digital belongings seems a morbid topic. Why is it important?
Not many people think about their digital legacy, but our digital belongings are accumulating. There are both pragmatic and sentimental reasons why your loved ones, after your death, might care about them. And preservation matters for historical, collective memory too. The problem is, there is no clear mechanism for passing digital belongings from one generation to the next. Our digital possessions are getting lost in the ether – not only because our loved ones might not even be aware of what accounts we have, but because tech platforms haven’t been designed to anticipate or think about death.

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