Early Friday morning, Poland-based Implix CEO and Founder Simon Grabowski signed on to the company's Facebook page to find a status update from Rachael, a client, letting the world know about her intent to commit suicide.
Grabowski had noticed strange updates on Rachael's Facebook account for the past few days, but didn't think this Texas-based client would actually attempt to take her own life.
But as every moment of some people's lives are livedpublicly, so too, can their deaths. Last year, when 21-year-old Kevin Apuzzio died, his Facebook profile was transformed into a digital memorial. The topic of what happens to someone's social network and email accounts after they die is a topic that an Implix employee has blogged about in the past.
Experts believe more people will begin using social media to relay messages to loved ones, family and friends even after they have died. Email accounts or profiles on forums or sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, are rarely deleted for inactivity. And as more people share their lives online, a digital trail can live on forever after we die.
The Swedish startup MyWebWill Co-founders Elin Tybring and Lisa Granberg hope to solve that problem. The two plan to launch a service within a few weeks that helps people "take control of your life on the Web after death." The first version of the service offers a way to erase Facebook accounts or change statuses, take down blog posts, and send emails to friends and family.
Since people blog, upload pictures and hang out with their friends online daily, Tybring and Granberg decided to launch the service after seeing a need to take control of digital identities and remaining traces of online activity after someone dies. Not having the access "represents an increasing problem" for those left behind, she says.
Today, most information ends up on digital password-protected sites, unlike the way people documented lives by writing entrees in diaries and letters. Unless those passwords are shared, few ways exist to access important information or remove the posts and the photos from online.
Tybring also makes the case that most people don't consider telling anyone what they want to do with the posts and sites after they are gone. Become a member and the service lets you decide when to execute the emails and messages, such as the day of the month or length of time after death. The company's backend system also links in with several registry boards to verify when people have passed.
Subscribers first choose the type of membership that suits their needs. Next, they decide what should happen to accounts after death. Options include deactivating them, changing content or transferring account details to others. Under "changing the content," the subscriber can conduct changes for a certain account, such as leaving a last status update on Facebook or posting a last tweet on Twitter. These options are specific to each site.
When MyWebwill is informed about a death, the site decrypts the information and executes the requests. The site offers three types of accounts: Basic, Premium with yearly billing, and Premium with one-time billing. The Basic account, which is free, simply deactivates all the accounts.
The site will not bombard visitors with advertisements, but instead will provide ads from a few selected companies that offer complimentary products, such as Symantec, Tybring says.
Update:According to a spokesperson at Implix, the client Rachel is "OK now. Simon and his colleague in Poland called the proper authorities in Texas directly so they could check on the situation."