Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Email from the "Elvis Place"

Would you like to send email after your end in this earthly existence? You could do so through an electronic timed-release commercial email notification service called "Deathswitch".

This service has existed since at least the year 2000, when it was mentioned in a posting entitled "Digital Tontine", by Matthew S. Hamrick on the Stacking Fault blog; so it is not new.

I noticed it early this year, when it was mentioned again in postings by marketers, not lawyers or geeks.
See: "Email from Beyond the Grave" (01/12/07), by John Whiteside on the The Opinionated Marketers blog; and "Deathswitch" (01/17/07), by Maureen Rogers on the Pink Slip blog.

These blog postings were prompted, in part, by an article entitled "
A brief history of death switches", written by that company's founder, Dr. David Eagleman, & published in the October 19, 2006 issue of the scientific journal Nature.

There is no afterlife, but a version of us lives on nonetheless.

At the beginning of the computer era, people died with passwords in their heads and no one could access their files. * * *
The marketers appeared intrigued by this innovative idea -- the one in the second paragraph, not the statement in the first paragraph.

For $19.95 annually, Deathswitch enables subscribers to "bridge mortality" by communicating important confidential information after death through email messages written by subscribers & addressed from the company to targeted survivors.

Possible uses could include: expression of "final wishes", disclosure of "unspeakable secrets", passage of "love notes", and even delivery of the "last word" in an argument. More recently, the emphasis of this service appears to be on password information that could allow post-mortem access to computer software or online data.

The "event" initiating such email notifications would be the non-responsiveness of a subscriber to periodic email messages sent by the company requiring reply confirmation. After no reply from the subscriber for a defined time, the pre-arranged email deliveries would be initiated by the company.

What a surprise for the recipients -- whether delivered properly, or erroneously!

This trip-wire mechanism, and the possibilities for premature delivery, remind me of the 1964 movie "Fail-Safe", starring Henry Fonda & Walter Matthau:
A technical malfunction in the Pentagon's strategic control system causes an erroneous order to be sent to a B-58 squadron on a routine training mission instructing the bombers to fly beyond their fail safe distance. At this point the flight crew are trained to cease communications and prepare to fulfill their objective by bombing Moscow. * * *
This is just one approach to the growing problem of disclosure of sensitive, important electronic information after death to permit proper administration of interests.

There are others, including some that minimize the potential of nuking Moscow in the process.

"It will have you sitting on the brink of eternity!"
-- Tagline of the movie "
Fail-Safe" (10/07/64)