The death of a loved one is part of the human experience. And every culture and religion observes the death of a loved one in a different way. In Judaism we say, “Zikhrono li-verakhah (may his/her memory be for a blessing).” We recite Yizkor four times throughout the year and ask God to remember our departed. Beliefs and mourning practices vary between religions, but people of all creeds in the 21st century share a common experience, too. After our loved ones have passed on we are left with the digital vestiges of their online identities. It can be painful and overwhelming to dismantle the last “living” remnants of our friends and family, but what if it becomes necessary to do so? How do we terminate their virtual lives? Are their identities at risk? Can people hack those profiles? What is required to delete an account?
Good news, Jews – Scott Weinberg and Coleton Hanson (both Hamline University Alumni) set out to address those very concerns. Weinberg is the founder and owner of Protect Their Memories and Hanson is the CTO and director of fulfillment. I asked Hanson what inspired the two of them to start this business. “Scott [. . .] and I both came to the conclusion that, if we died, we wouldn’t have any way to control what happens to our social media lives.” He replied. “We figured there would have to be a solution.” I went to their website to get more information. I discovered that Protect Their Memories offers account deletion for seven major social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Reddit, and Foursquare.
I use almost all of those sites and I began to wonder about the fate of my own virtual identity. I asked Weinberg if anyone could sign up for their services. “Our business model,” he answered, “is based on the unfortunate situation where password knowledge becomes unavailable. Our service does not access any account, only deletes them.” I immediately appreciated the marketability of the service Weinberg and Hanson offer. Social media is a part of day-to-day life for millions of people. We post our birthdates and addresses, pictures of our friends and families, our educational history, and our employment history to the Internet. When we’re alive, we’re there to monitor our activity and prevent scamming to some extent. After we die, this information floats around largely unchecked. I don’t spend too much time thinking about what I would do about those accounts if one of my loved ones died because the first person I would contact is my rabbi – not Facebook.
Given that Weinberg and Hanson are also Jewfolk in the TC, I asked Hanson if there were any Jewish principles or themes behind Protect Their Memories. He had a response for that too. “[S]itting Shiva is important [. . . ] It’s up to us to help individuals and their families close down open social media accounts in order to help the healing process during a potentially traumatic time in their lives.” Facebook alone requires email addresses, a web address or URL of the deceased person’s “timeline”, and a digital copy of an official document (such as a death certificate). I am pretty active in the world of social media but I am almost completely computer illiterate. Imagine trying to delete accounts from five social media outlets when you’re also notifying family, making funeral arrangements and sitting Shiva.
Weinberg and Hanson developed an effective product to meet a growing need and they are still the new kids on the block. “Our company is still very new,” Weinberg explained, “[we’re] just a few months in. Ergo we’re working now on getting the word out that this exists. As far as we know, it’s totally unique in all the world.”
They offer a service that will help ensure the memories of our loved ones remain a blessing, not a curse. “We believe people may wish to have accounts deleted for one of two reasons,” Weinberg says, “First, for reasons of privacy and respect. The other reason is to eliminate identity theft schemes.” Protect Their Memories takes the guesswork out of deleting social media accounts that can be susceptible to hacking and identity theft. They are up and running and have gotten some pretty good press lately. Mazal Tov to our TCJewfolk entrepreneurs! Visit their website protecttheirmemories.com to read more articles and contact them directly.