What happens to your data after you die?


Former Evernote CEO Phil Libin discusses with Recode’s Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode on Too Embarrassed to Ask.

If you’re reading this, you probably have a sizable digital footprint: Email accounts, social media profiles, media you’ve downloaded, notes you’ve saved to the cloud, etc. So, where does all of that data go when you’re no longer around?

On the latest episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, former Evernote CEO Phil Libin said the answer is within everyone’s grasp. Speaking with Recode’s Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, he urged listeners to plan what they would like to have happen to their digital lives — such as having it deleted or having access to accounts transferred to family members — and then clearly spell out that intent in their wills.

“Preparing to have an elegant death is a really good way to lead an elegant life,” Libin said. “I think it’s one of the best things you can do to make sure you’re actually living every day the way that you want to live it.”

“Wow, I have a whole different approach to that,” Swisher replied. “I’m going to have myself cremated and then thrown in the face of people I don’t like.”


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Some companies such as Google do offer tools for automatically transferring data away from inactive accounts. But Libin, now the managing director of General Catalyst, said this is an “evolving field,” and not every service’s data is so easy to hand off.

“At least right now, access to your email address tends to be the key to everything else,” he said. “If you leave your email address and password to someone, they can usually go and reset passwords for any accounts that they want to get into.”

He also noted that Evernote had wrestled with the question of digital legacies while he was CEO. The company spent more than a year developing a tool codenamed Evernote Century, which would guarantee that one’s Evernote data could be accessed by a whitelist of people for 100 years.

“The policy at the time was, privacy was the most important thing to us,” he explained. “While you were alive, we would never release your information to anyone unless you wanted it. We thought, unless we hear otherwise, we just have to assume that’s the case even after you’re dead, so we would not release information to your next of kin.”

“[Evernote Century] was one of the things that we never shipped,” he added. “There’s a lot of things companies work on that they decide, we just don’t have the resources to do this very well. I hope they get around to it at some point, and that other companies do something similar.”

Have questions about digital life after death that we didn’t get to in this episode? Or have another tech topic on your mind? You can tweet any questions, comments and complaints to @Recode with the hashtag #TooEmbarrassed. You can also email your questions to TooEmbarrassed@recode.net, in case Twitter isn’t your thing.

Be sure to follow @LaurenGoode, @KaraSwisher and @Recode to be alerted when we’re looking for questions about a specific topic.

You can listen to Too Embarrassed to Ask in the audio player above, or subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.

If you like this show, you should also check out our other podcasts:

  • Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with the movers and shakers in tech and media every Monday. You can subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.
  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.
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If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on iTunes — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara and Lauren. Tune in next Friday for another episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask!

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