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Who gets your Internet passwords when you die?


In the event of — shall we say — unforeseen circumstances, responsible adults have long kept a will, and if they're especially thoughtful, all their pertinent papers, in a single easy to find location. But what happens when a person's worldly goods don't exist in the world, but in the "cloud?"

A recent survey found that UK Internet users store at least $3.2 billion worth of worth of personal videos, music, books and photos in the cloud, stored by third-parties and accessed by users over the Internet. "The survey also suggests that 31 per cent of UK adults have considered what they might pass on to family members in terms of what is now being defined as their personal 'digital inheritance,' " reports Rackspace Hosting, the Internet storage company that conducted the survey.

Whether these survey participants actually get around do doing that, however, is a question unanswered by the survey.

One wonders how much U.S. Internet users are prepared in comparison to our UK counterparts. As we increasingly live more of our lives online, a variety of services continue to pop up to manage our Facebook, Twitter and other online accounts in the event of our untimely demise.

"Think about it: there’s online banking, online grocery shopping, online dating and online job hunting. From playing poker to shoe shopping, we use the Internet to live our lives all the time," reads the description for Legacy Locker, a service that will help manage your online dealings after death. "Oh, and the water cooler just went digital, too, as Facebook and Twitter have us all connected in a perpetual virtual chatroom. Our lives are now a digital experience and we spend more than a third of our time online socializing with friends and building relationships."

Then there's your Kindle, your iTunes, your online photo albums. and maybe even your "Second Life" avatar. Do you want someone to have access to that precious cloud content, or could you not care less? More than half of the 2,000 people surveyed considered this digital property store to be "treasured possessions." Yet more than two-thirds don't take into account that this password-protected content is stored by a third party, or that they're using the so-called cloud.

Use it they do however — one in 10 had their heads in cloud more than an average of five hours a day, and more than 76 days in total over a year. The survey found four distinct cloud user profiles. See if you can spot yourself in these descriptions:

Head in the Clouds: The most common new social profile which represents 66 per cent of online respondents who are cloud users but don't think or don't know they are.

e-Hoarders: Representing almost one in ten of the respondents (8 percent), these people are completely immersed in the cloud and use it to stash everything for safekeeping, and sometimes to keep their physical space tidy. They are as digitally disorganised as they are in their homes — never properly naming files etc. and have thousands of digital things which they are afraid to delete, just in case.

Cloud sceptics: This group represents almost one in five (20 percent) respondents who, while they rely on the cloud, worry about control of their data and wonder who, or what, has their stuff.

2020 teenagers: This group of pre-teens are digital natives who do not distinguish between hardware, software or data — the cloud is simply a way  of life. They also reveal the most about the future direction of cloud services and usage.

"The cloud is becoming more and more part of our everyday work and personal life," Fabio Torlini, VP of Cloud at Rackspace said of the survey. With the large investment Internet users "seem to be making in digital treasures,  it's imperative that people consider the associated security and legacy implications."

More on the annoying way we live now:

Helen A.S. Popkin goes blah blah blah about the Internet. Tell her to get a real job on Twitter and/or FacebookAlso, Google+.