Carl Öhman – The Ethics of Our Digital Afterlives

Carl Öhman

Uppsala University

From The Conference September 01, 2023

“The data of the dead is more than individual user history, it is the heritage of the 21st century.”

By the end of this century, Facebook will host 5 billion profiles of deceased people - and therefore have access to data of more people who are dead than alive. That poses an urgent question: What do we do with the digital dead?

Since the agricultural revolution and the settlement of humans, the dead have been around us. They are a portal to our past, and we continue to feel connected to them. Due to the digital revolution, the people who die now also leave a digital footprint. That leads to a question of morality: What do we do with this enormous amount of data? Who owns it, who accesses it, who deletes it? Who can profit from it economically? All of this is more than a question of individual user history but the actual heritage of the 21st century. So, how do we treat this primary source of information that we pass down to the future?

Should we really let 1-2 tech companies gatekeep the access to our collective digital past? Should we grant families access to our data after we die? And can we influence which version of us will be displayed after our death? Carl Öhman encourages us to think about these questions because even though you may not care about your data after your death because you are dead, there are various reasons why you absolutely should.


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