The era of digital assets .. Who will inherit your Facebook page after your death?
On November 13, 2004, Justin M. Ellsworth was killed while serving as a US Marine in Fallujah, Iraq. His father decided to erect a memorial to him using emails that Justin had sent and received while serving in Iraq. In order to do so, John Ellsworth (father) requested access to his son’s account from the email service provider “Yahoo”, but the company refused the request and claimed that if it granted Justin’s father access to his account, it would be in direct violation of the service’s privacy agreement, which he agreed It has more than 40 million users.
Finally, after a heated court battle that lasted more than three months, a Michigan court finally granted the Ellsworth family access to their son’s email (1). Now to imagine a more recent example, Samir, a well-known influencer, passed away, leaving behind his social media accounts, which are collectively valued in the millions. Are these accounts sold and their money given to his young children to secure their future? Or do these accounts have to die with the death of their owner?
People use the Internet for countless reasons, from posting ideas and photos on blogs, to keeping up with friends and family, to maintaining bank accounts and credit card balances. As a result, all posts, images and files posted on websites and social media platforms qualify as digital assets and property of their respective owners. With the vast majority of sites protected by username and password, an important issue arises regarding what will happen not only to the accounts themselves, but also to all digital assets locked behind usernames and passwords when a person dies without revealing any of the many usernames and passwords of their accounts. Getting there may require complicated steps.
Possessions of Zeros and Ones
Digital assets are electronic files of data that individuals can own and transfer, use as a currency to conduct cyber transactions, or as a way to store intangible content, such as electronic artwork or videos. Digital assets are documented and their value held by many technologies, chief among them are cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, and so-called asset-backed stablecoins, such as tether, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and certificates of ownership of the original digital media.
These digital assets can take many forms such as photographs, logos, illustrations, animations, audiovisual media, presentations, spreadsheets, digital boards, word documents, email, websites, and many other digital products. and its metadata. The number of types of digital assets is growing exponentially due to the increasing number of devices that represent channels of digital media, especially smartphones. But you may be wondering, how can we sell properties that are mostly zero and one components?
Records of digital asset ownership are kept securely on a type of decentralized database, or ledger. This structure allows digital assets to be transferred without having to go through a central party, such as a bank or an intermediary, which can facilitate and speed up transactions. These databases are built on blockchain technology, a type of electronic record, where digital asset transactions are recorded in blocks of data that are “linked” together in a specific order, and protected using complex computer “hash” codes.
The details of each new transaction must be verified by a network of computers or nodes before they are added to the registry. This validation process includes transaction details being sent to all nodes in the network, and involves solving complex mathematical problems to prove the validity of the transaction. When the majority of devices/nodes conclude that the transaction is valid, this amounts to a collective decision to accept it. But it doesn’t stop here, as you can now convert your real-world possessions into tokens.
A new form of ownership
Recent estimates put the present value of all real assets at around $256 trillion globally. While this staggering number is fairly stable, all of these assets are regularly traded in a completely conventional buy-and-go process (2). But the good news with the recent development in coding is that the way you own and trade assets in the real world may be on the brink of a real revolution.
Asset tokenization refers to the process of converting ownership of an object in the real world into a digital token. This can be done in different ways, depending on the nature of the asset and the country in which it is located, but all ultimately lead to a legally backed bridge between physical assets (real estate, car, gold, etc.) and their electronic tokens. All token strategies require one feature: a sound legal structure that links the token and the asset. This means that companies or teams that tokenize an asset need, above all, strong legal direction and structure so that the token asset is supported by the legal system in the country in question.
It’s not science fiction as you think now. In June 2021, more than half a million physical assets were converted to digital assets within a network called ShuttleOne. The physical assets symbolized in Shuttle One can be anything in the supply chain, from commercial stocks in the areas of food, health, beauty and toys to high-value assets such as steel and machinery.
There is always something that comes to people’s mind when dealing with digital assets: Are these assets safe? Owners of digital assets need their own unique “private key,” which is a long password that can be likened to the password on a bank card. It is essential not to lose or forget this private key. Banks do not guarantee decentralized digital assets and will not have a password reset hotline, which means that it is almost impossible to recover digital keys once they are lost. According to Chain Analysis, a blockchain data provider, more than $100 billion worth of bitcoin has been lost in this way. (4)
The keys, and thus the cryptocurrency, can be kept in online or mobile wallets, known as hot wallets. This makes it easy to access funds quickly, for example, for traders who want to quickly connect to exchanges, brokers or other services. In fact, many cryptocurrency exchanges offer online digital wallet services that seamlessly connect to their trading systems.
However, this is the least secure way to hold cryptocurrencies, and it makes digital assets more vulnerable to hackers. In 2014, Mt.Gox, then the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, filed for bankruptcy after losing more than $450 million in bitcoin when hackers stole the keys to its hot wallet. (5)
Are there safer solutions? Yes, the most common alternative here is what is known as cold storage on an offline device. Hackers usually need access to that device, along with any associated passwords or codes, to steal crypto assets. Cold storage options for controlling digital assets that do not involve intermediaries include hardware wallets, which are USB storage media or offline computers, all of which cannot be hacked by hackers and can cost several hundred dollars.
In light of this steady trend towards digital assets, digital inheritance has become a complex legal and ethical problem. The legal disputes surrounding digital inheritance center around issues of intellectual property rights and user privacy, and two major problems arise around a person’s digital property. First, the nature of inheritance in digital content must be determined, as only digital content in which the deceased has copyrighted may be transferred to the heir. At that point, there is a distinction in law between full ownership and right-of-use licenses such as software, digital music, movies, and books. Second, the heir or administrator of the estate must be able to access the content. This means that Internet contracts and the terms of special service agreements must contain death clauses and policies. (6)
For example, if you want to inherit a plot of land that you bought in a digital game, you must specify this in your will, and you must not lose the key to the plot. One potential solution to digital inheritance issues is for online service providers to offer users a list of options when they register regarding the disposition of their property in the event of death. This option will allow users to choose whether or not they want to preserve their content, and who to grant access to, With their right to privacy in mind, that’s what Facebook is already doing. (7)
Some may think that digital inheritance is pointless and pointless, but it is increasingly proving to be beneficial. In the personal realm, the ability of family members to access or receive copies of online content of their deceased loved ones has real sentimental value, and can help them deal with the effects of the loss.
More importantly for some perhaps any digital content that results in economic value to the original user may continue to provide that value if passed on to the user’s heir(s). Digital inheritance also has beneficial implications for preserving society’s digital heritage, rather than eventually being discarded or deleted, future generations will be able to gain a better understanding of the digital landscape of our time through this heritage. (8) It is very serious, then, our possessions are no longer limited to assets and real money, and we should now think about the fate of our digital legacy after we leave.
- DIGITAL LIFE AFTER DEATH: THE ISSUE OF PLANNING FOR A PERSON’S DIGITAL ASSETS AFTER DEATH John Connor, Student Author, Texas Tech University School of Law:
- Step-by-Step Guide to Tokenizing Real-World Assets:
- Over half a million USD of real-world assets has been tokenized on ShuttleOne network in June 2021:
- How secure are digital assets?:
- Hackers target new cryptocurrency investors:
- Leaving a digital legacy. Moneywise.
- What happens to our Facebook accounts when we die?:
- Covering your digital assets: Why the stored communications act stands in the way of digital inheritance. Ohio State Law Journal, 75(2), 405-446.