iWill: Britons leaving heirs "digital inheritance"

LONDON Fri Oct 14, 2011 2:44pm EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britons are now including internet passwords in wills to ensure their online music, photographs, videos and other digital data are not lost when they die, a British study showed.

Around 11 percent of the 2,000 British people surveyed by the Center for Creative & Social Technology (CAST) at the University of London for their "Cloud Generation" report said they had included internet passwords or plan to include them in their wills in a trend that CAST labeled "digital inheritance."

"It's an area that will become increasingly important given, for instance, the monetary value of music collections and sentimental value of photograph collections - fewer people now keep hard copies of either," the report quoted Steven Thorpe, partner at Gardner Thorpe Solicitors, as saying.

"Cloud Generation" co-authors Chris Brauer and Jennifer Barth used 15 in-depth case studies and the larger poll to investigate the implications for people whose personal and cultural keepsakes increasingly exist only in the so-called cloud -- online services run on remote computers rather than one's own PC.

In the course of their study, they discovered people naturally wanted to save valuable music, photos and videos for their own use during their lifetime, but now increasingly are seeking to preserve those things for their heirs.

"It's that it's representative of your identity, of who you are," Brauer told Reuters on Friday.

Brauer said they discovered that "digital natives" as -- he called them -- now instinctively rely on the cloud to interact, save, store and share their personal tastes and data.

The idea of digital legacies appeared when they asked cloud users what they would rescue if the house caught fire.

"They said: 'I would go to my computer, email my photos (and other digital treasures) to myself and then leave the house'," Brauer said.

What happens to people's online identity and activities after they die has become a growing issue with the ubiquity of cloud computing, digital memorabilia, social networking and an aging generation of Internet users.

For example, social networking site Facebook allows a deceased user's profile to be taken down, but will not pass on passwords to give next of kin access to the account.

The use of smartphones and other gadgets has also increased the amount of online services people use -- including storing movies, emails, family videos and work data.

About 25 percent of respondents to the report believed that by 2020 they would no longer print photos and 14.5 percent thought they would not own any physical books.

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

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