All the ghosts in the machine

All the ghosts in the machine

Analysis by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) recently reported that there would be a minimum of 1.4 billion deceased users on Facebook by 2100 if the social media network had stopped attracting new users as of 2018. But if the network continues to expand at current rates, this number will be closer to 5 billion.

It is therefore unsurprising that this topic is now the subject of a book; All the Ghosts in the Machine. Elaine Kasket, counselling psychologist and an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society, explores the thorny issue of what happens to people’s digital footprint when they die.

Since 2006 the social media revolution has meant that, rather than curating things, people now produce a constant stream of digital updates – pictures, videos, comments, blogs, music etc. The problem is that all this lives on even after the person has died.

Speaking to Computer Weekly Kasket explained an experiment she ran called ‘Eulogy”. Volunteers agreed to be eulogised by strangers. In the exercise, a portal was set up into the volunteer’s digital social media footprint, and people were invited to stalk that person digitally, spending 15 minutes trying to capture what their life was all about. The results were extraordinary. They demonstrated just how much personal information is out there that people don’t know about. For instance third party social media tags uploaded by friends, family and strangers that are totally out of a person’s control.  .

Kasket believes that we are getting to the point where Alexa and other digital assistants will be able to write someone’s eulogy based on all the information that exists online.

Additionally, the plethora of post mortem digital data means that the potential for deceased identify fraud is growing. Fraudsters use this information to steal the identity of people that have died and use it to obtain credit and expensive products in the name of the deceased. According to Cifas this is now one of the most prevalent forms of fraud costing millions each year. Not only that but the distress it causes the friends and family of the deceased is immeasurable. Often they are none the wiser until a bailiff turns up at their door demanding payment for unpaid loans etc. It is therefore critical that organisations put processes in place, such as fraud prevention products like Halo to identify deceased fraud. This serves to both protect their bottom line and stop fraudsters from causing unnecessary stress and pain for the bereaved.

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