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Digital Inheritance: What Happens with My Data after Death?

A research network, in which the University of Bremen is involved, is developing a comprehensive study on digital inheritance. The aim is to create recommendations for testators, heirs, and the law.

What happens to email accounts, Facebook profiles, or online banking accounts when the users are no longer there? Many people do not know that they can or how they can regulate their digital inheritance. In order to develop the topic of digital inheritance from legal and technical viewpoints, a research project has been established. “The aim of the project is to reveal disadvantages for users and to develop recommendations on how the inheritability of data can be configurated in an uncomplicated manner,” explains Professor Benedikt Buchner from the Institute for Information, Health and Medical Law (IGMR) of the Faculty of Law at the University of Bremen. The Faculty of Law of the University of Regensburg is also involved in the study under the lead of the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information technology (SIT).

Opening of Succession: What Now?

In the frame of the study, the research team intends to develop recommendations that help testators bequeath their data and take certain preparatory measures. Not only will the legal side, but also the technical realization play a role. Technical solutions are to be created in order to allow heirs to identify bequeathed data and subsequently manage it. These aids are also to be developed for authorized caregivers and legal guardians, as they often face the same problem as relatives. Additionally, an information brochure with explanations and tips is to be produced. It is to be compact, clear, and offer an overview of the topic.

Recommendations for Companies and the Law

It is also important for the data processing companies to know who the heir is, in order to offer them the legal access to the data of the testator. Therefore, possibilities for how small and mid-size companies can find heirs are to be developed. Many large companies employ data usage clauses that are legally valid but are disadvantageous for the users in a number of ways. “Thus, with regard to the strong economic standpoint of several service providers, we also want to investigate if there is a need for a legal regulation of digital inheritance to the advantage of the user and what this could be like,” states Buchner. He names the purchase of an eBook as an example. One often purchases only restricted usage rights without being aware of this. This usage right regularly becomes invalid upon a person passing away, which is why the eBook cannot be bequeathed, despite the affected person possibly having assumed this this is possible because they pressed the “buy” button. 


Further Information:

https://www.uni-bremen.de/jura/igmr/forschung/  (in German only)


Contact:

Marcel Kubis
Faculty of Law
University of Bremen
Phone:  +49 421 218-66160
Email: kubisprotect me ?!uni-bremenprotect me ?!.de

Tim Sperlich
Faculty of Law
University of Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-66164
Email: tim.sperlichprotect me ?!uni-bremenprotect me ?!.de

 

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Digital inheritance should also be clarified in a timely manner. A research team intends to develop practical assistance for this.