If you follow me on Twitter (no you probably don’t want to), you know I’ve been dealing with the messy technical side of death for around 2 years now. My father died, unexpectedly, and I picked up his digital life and dropped it on my laptop in order to untangle things. While my father had shared his login information with me before, I did run into a number of technical issues like needing the phone for an SMS confirmation when I logged in from a new location.
Now all that said… Here’s the technical problem a LOT of companies created for themselves.
- They don’t require you to verify an email before sending you advertisements
- Those emails do not have unsubscribe links
Yeah, those two things are killing me, smalls.
Why not delete the account?
Someone’s thinking this…
Because the last time someone emailed it, legit looking for my Dad to tell him something funny/relatable/personal, was December 2020.
Dad was in his 70s. He had a lot of sporadic friends over that time, and sometimes they would randomly think about him and reach out. Many were long-standing friends, some I knew and hadn’t seen since I was in elementary school. He lived in a lot of places. Those people needed to be told he was dead.
Maybe one day I’ll delete his account and his website, but it won’t be any time soon.
How to Fix This
The good news here is all this is fixable if people start caring about data properly.
See the problem here stems from companies wanting your data. They want it so much that they use any excuse to grab it and never let go. But this is wrong both legally and morally.
It’s not their data. It is YOUR data, and you should have a right to it. Per the GDPR, UK’s Right of Removal, and even California’s new laws, my data belongs to me, and I have a right (in most cases) to get it off their system. In the case of my dead father? That data is as useful for you as wings on a mongoose. But as his estate’s legal representative, I legally own Dad’s data, which means I should have control.
Check The Email First
Anyone who’s signed up for anything online lately knows that you have to opt-in to getting ads. That’s just how the world works now. But you also have to confirm your email before you can use your account fully.
At the outset, that sounds great, right? It forces people to confirm! The reality though is that by letting people make an account, with or without verification of the email, those companies add the email to their mailing lists. That means that when some moron uses my father’s email to ‘test’ (or because they’re some idiot in the midwest who regularly thinks it’s his email even though Dad made it in the 1990s and has used it since then, seriously buddy, stop it), I get the email. And when they correct the email in the account, they retain access and I keep getting emails that I cannot unsubscribe from.
We’ll get to the lack of links in a minute.
The obvious thought process here is “People wouldn’t put in the wrong email!” but the reality? They do. They totally do. There’s a guy who bought a Ford, has a credit line, and a loan from a bank, and I know a whole lot about all this because he is a total idiot who keeps using the email that was my father’s. Seriously. It’s never been his email. The first owner of the domain was Dad. The second is me. The email he used has been in use, by my father, since March 2, 1995. Not joking.
Now, if you keep along with the (incorrect) thought train, you’d think “Once someone enters their email, I can add it to my mailing lists as I have their consent.” And again, sure. IF the email is actually theirs. And what’s happening is all these sites add in your email to their lists before they confirm (if they confirm at all) that it’s really your email. This means my poor Dad’s email is not just added to an account, it’s added to all their lists as well.
Let Us Unsubscribe
The other (related) issue is there’s no unsubscribe link.
Look, I get it. There are emails that are not unsubscribeable for as long as you have an active account. There are legal reasons why you have to be mailed some things. However all those emails must have a way you can actually close/remove your account. A link would be great, but even an explanation “Hey, we cannot unsubscribe you unless you close your account, here’s how to do that.” would be better than the message from a certain ISP who told me I had to log in to the account… but were unable to provide me with the login info.
In the case of two separate companies, if you do have to legally send out emails to people because they have an active account, you should be including some information like ‘Your account name is X’ or even ‘Your account number is X’ so that we can have a place to start. Instead, I have a bunch of emails that all say they can’t unsubscribe me while I have an active account, please log in …
And what do you think happens when I go to log in? Of course ‘There is no account with this email…’
Which brings me to…
Let Us Recover Accounts
It needs to be ‘easier’ to recover account. Especially if someone’s dead.
Now, I’m not talking about Facebook’s idiocy on locking people out and requiring them to have someone else verify them, only to send another email that bounces and you can never log in. Although that was certainly fun to do with my Dad’s stuff.
Take a hard look around. People are dying by the thousands per day, and those are not ‘expected’ deaths by any means. This means the number of humans who were unprepared and unorganized are stuck trying to find things like account numbers, and have no clue where to start. If we’re lucky, we can get into their email and change the passwords so we can keep it but…
This is not actually very easy! The only reason I had Dad’s email was because I was his email admin. If I wasn’t, I’d have to have logged in while I was still in Japan, from his laptop, and then hoped beyond reason that I was able to change the passwords without knowing the current one.
Think about that for a second. My father lived in Japan, had a Japanese number. He’s dead, the phone number was closed, and I can’t get it back as I’m not a Japanese resident. Which means the methods to recover are … email. But that isn’t enough for some companies.
My ‘favourite’ is someone telling me that there was no way to know what account used my Dad’s email. Yeah, they had no way to connect an email to any account, and required me to provide a local phone number to call me about it. I blocked their emails because I literally have no other solution. They can’t tell me what email uses the address I own, and they can’t help me except by a local-to-them phone call.
Summary? Let People Own Their Data
Okay, here’s your summary:
- Require email confirmation in all cases where an account is being made. No verification? No account.
- Allow people to correct the emails if they can’t verify. If someone put in
firstname.lastname@example.org forgot that E, they should be able to fix this.
- Allow people to unsubscribe from all emails with an easy to find method. A link, some explanations, whatever. Make it obvious.
- If people cannot legally unsubscribe while having an account, then you need to make it possible to cancel accounts when a user DO NOT KNOW the account name. If you’ve verified emails, yo, magic. “I forgot my account name…” — And again, this needs to be easy to find information.
- If someone sends you a damn death certificate, you should honour it.
This is not going to fix everything, but it would certainly make us hate a couple companies a lot less.