The commercialization of digital remains has become increasingly clear as we continue to probe various articles regarding online memorials and grieving. Who is benefiting from data remaining online? Once the bereaved stop paying, the data will, in many cases, disappear. While I understand why someone would want to keep a dead loved one’s Facebook page for a few years to grieve and return to when wanting to hear the deceased’s “voice,” does the page have to continue for longer than a generation? Before we or the government figure out how to deal with digital remains, I think we first have to decide if such data is an inheritable object or a memorial, since I think the transfer of ownership has a large impact on what happens to our data.
If the deceased is no longer benefitting from the existence of their digital life, why should money continue to be paid to tech companies? The attitude of tech companies is likely similar to their reaction to the Gonzalez case, in which Google refused to accept how indexing and providing certain data is a kind of power that goes beyond just “creation” of data. What ideological goals can companies have outside of pure capitalist gain? If our data doesn’t belong to us, that seems to make the quest for a digital afterlife much more unattainable.
The bots, of course, are the most troubling part of these articles, similar to how we were troubled by Be Right Back. What if data that the bot is working with is racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive? How do we apply ethics to such a situation, even if the deceased’s loved ones still want to interact with the bot. What if the bot reads racism, sexism, etc. onto the online identity of a person, which may not be accurate?
All of these questions lead me to think that a digital legacy, outside of those special cases like Tonnies, might be best to just fade into oblivion. I certainly have not created enough online to put in the effort into ensuring its survival for long after I die, and I wonder how much of such efforts are narcissism.