Imagine you dropped dead this instant, would you want your family getting into your computer or smartphone as it is?
■ A growing problem
As Japan’s population continues to age, so does its net-using population. An information and communications white paper recently reported that as of the end of 2015, 82 percent of people in their early 60s and 54 percent of those over 70 are active online.
▼ My grandmother in her 90s is no exception, actively posting chain-letter-style items such as this one she found a few days ago.
This poses an increasingly common predicament for the families of those who pass on: How do they access the deceased’s private accounts? The nature of these cases can vary widely from wanting to retrieve precious photographs to cancelling paid services. These inaccessible things have been recently given the name “digital ihin” (where ihin is a convenient all-encompassing Japanese word for things left behind by the dead).
And of course, when there is a need to be filled, you can count on a company to establish a service to do just that. In Osaka, major funeral parlor Koekisha has teamed up with Japan PC Service to offer bereaved families the ability to bypass their deceased loved one’s passwords and access their digital ihin for about 20,000 yen (US$193).
■ They can do what now?!
For many people, imagining one’s parents, spouses, or children having complete access to all one’s files and online activity is an unpleasant experience. Although you could make the argument that when you’re dead you don’t care, at the same time, you aren’t around to explain how the sexually explicit My Little Pony image on there was only used jokingly in a forum thread that one time.
So readers of this news online were rather bothered by it.
“They shouldn’t do that.”
“Aren’t there human rights for the dead?”
“They’ll regret looking into my computer.”
“I’ll use my last bit of energy to drill a hole in my hard drive before dying.”
“Parent: ‘Hmm, I wonder if there are some precious memories of my son in this hidden folder…'”
“Ignorance is bliss.”
“Did you hear that? A bunch of people just rolled over in their graves.”
As far as the human rights issue is concerned, lawyer Takashi Kurosaki told Yomiuri Shimbun that indeed the right to privacy only applies to the living. After that, the deceased’s rightful heir is legally allowed to access all of their belongings.
■ Your mp3s die with you
However, there are limitations. Certain online services such as social networks will often not allow other people to access a user’s account, even in the event of death. Also, ebook and music downloading services do not allow family to inherit the downloaded content, which means my children will never be blessed with those Justin Timberlake songs I got free for Christmas from iTunes that one time.
▼ Sorry kids, where I’m goin’ sexy ain’t gonna be back…
Now before you go setting your computer up with a self-destruct formatting routine that automatically activates if it isn’t turned on after a week, Yusuke Furuta of digital research institute LxxE has some advice.
Furuta recommends that everyone keep a written copy of the information that your next of kin would want to access once you pass on such as banking information, stocks, and non-pony-porn pictures. Also keep a list of your important passwords in a separate secure location, like with your bank books, and update both lists once a year.
This way family members know just where to look and that they don’t have to look any further. Or, you can just do what I do and put all controversial material into a folder labelled “Windows 8 Install.”