Don’t lose your memories forever: STEP calls on the government and service providers like Apple, Google and Meta to do more to help people to pass on their digital memories

Thursday, 16 June 2022
  • Online YouGov polling released today shows that:
    • 64 per cent of people say that what happens to sentimental digital possessions like photos, videos and social accounts after they have gone is important to them, compared with 33 per cent for financial digital assets.
    • But over half of respondents (57 per cent) have not made any plans to pass on their digital assets.
    • Strikingly, only 3 per cent of people have used the digital legacy tools provided by Google, Apple and others.
       
  • STEP, a worldwide body for professionals that help families plan for their futures, is launching its Protect Your Digital Memories campaign today to encourage people to make plans for what happens to their photos and videos after they’ve gone.
     
  • STEP is calling for the government and digital service providers to do more to help people to make plans for their assets, and to find better ways to support grieving loved ones who wish to access a loved one’s account

The professional membership body STEP is today calling on the public to plan what will happen to their ‘digital memories’ – the precious photos, videos and the contents of social and email accounts that could otherwise be lost to the cloud after they have gone.

According to YouGov polling online of over 2,000 UK adults:

  • 64 per cent said that what happens to their sentimental digital possessions after they have gone is either fairly important or very important to them.
  • 33 per cent said that their digital possessions with a monetary value, such as cryptocurrency, were either fairly important or very important to them.
  • Over half of the respondents (57 per cent) have made no plans at all for passing on their digital assets in the event of their death.
  • Of those who have made no plans, most (52 per cent) had not thought about it while 15 per cent knew they should but had not got around to it and 11 per cent did not know what to do.
  • Only 3 per cent of respondents had used the existing digital legacy tools provided by Google, Apple and others.

Commenting on the campaign, Emily Deane, Head of Government Affairs at STEP, said:

‘With so much of our lives now lived online, we must make plans to pass on our digital memories or risk them being lost on the cloud.

‘We know from our previous research with estate planning practitioners that not being able to access a loved one’s digital assets can be a great source of distress for grieving families. Losing a loved one is hard enough without losing their precious photos too.

‘That is why STEP is launching its Protect your Digital Memories campaign today.

‘Our new website, memories.step.org, gives easy tips for how to plan what will happen to our digital assets when we are no longer able to access them. It only takes a few minutes to use the legacy tools that Apple, Google, and other providers already have in place. Just ten minutes now could save our loved ones a great deal of distress in the future.’

STEP is calling for:

  1. Every service provider to provide, and encourage users to make use of, a comprehensive legacy tool to enable people to decide what happens to their account
  2. Every service provider to have a clause that allows access to a nominated person within its terms and conditions
  3. Legislation that allows access to a nominated person in the appropriate circumstances.

Michael Culver, Chair of Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE), the membership body setting the standards for older client law, says: ‘This is a really important campaign from STEP. It’s clear that everyone – including lawyers – needs to be more aware of the need to consider digital assets when planning ahead. Without a plan for digital assets, things can quickly get messy, time-consuming and stressful for family members.”

ENDS

The campaign website is memories.step.org and all figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2072 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 9-10 May 2022. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

For more information and interview requests, please contact Liz Skinner, email [email protected], tel 20 3752 3706 or Alex Winch, email [email protected], tel: +44 (0)7583 773507.

Background briefing: digital assets - what needs to change?

As digital technology becomes integral to our personal lives, our digital assets are becoming increasingly important. When we create an online account with service providers like Apple, Google and Meta, we agree to terms and conditions that emphasise data privacy. Yet many people do not plan for what will happen if they are no longer around or able to make decisions about such accounts and other digital assets.

There are often circumstances where family or loved ones would need or want to access a digital account when a loved one dies or becomes incapacitated. For example:

  • They might have sentimental value such as photos, videos, emails.
  • The online content might need to be controlled to protect the privacy of the deceased.
  • Access might be required to obtain passwords and login details in order to safeguard the deceased’s financial property.

However, in a recent survey of estate-planning professionals, nearly a quarter of respondents said their clients regularly have difficulties accessing the digital assets of a deceased or incapacitated person. This causes great distress and frustration. Nearly 60% of respondents to this survey had dealt with questions from clients about digital assets.

What we are calling for

STEP and its members are engaging with governments and service providers globally to produce industry solutions and best practice that will help families plan for their futures with certainty and clarity. We are calling for the following changes:

1). Every service provider to provide a comprehensive legacy tool

Some service providers have introduced useful functions that allow you to nominate someone to deal with your account when you die. You can find out more about these here and we recommend that everyone make use of these. However, these tools can vary in their functionality and usefulness, are relatively unknown and require people to plan ahead. That is why we raising awareness of them through our campaign and website.

2). Every service provider to have a clause that allows access to a nominated person within its terms and conditions

If people have not planned ahead, the situation can become more difficult, sometimes requiring court orders or other legal obstacles which can be costly and time consuming. STEP would like every server provider to include a clause that allows access to a nominated person within its term and conditions.

3). Legislation in every country that allows access to a nominated person in the appropriate circumstances.

Where service providers have not introduced the appropriate terms and conditions to allow access via its service agreement, then there should be legislation in each country that would override this, and provide a default position for access.

There are some encouraging signs that this is happening, including legislation such as the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) in the United States.

The Act permits online service companies to provide certain people with full or partial access to online content at their discretion. However, this type of legislation is not widely implemented elsewhere.

There are also positive signs in the UK, with the Law Commission of England and Wales’ digital assets project last year. Yet there more needs to be done, including cross-border collaboration, to achieve consistent international standards.

The law needs to stay up to date in all countries to ensure that individuals enjoy the same rights and freedoms to control their digital assets as they do their financial assets.