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April 13, 2009

E-mails from the dead

Posted: 10:08 AM ET


It happens to all of us at some point, of course. Some of us go expectedly, while others pass very sudden. But no matter which way we go, death is not cheap. From hospital bills to funeral home expenses and burial fees, lots of places are vying for a piece of an estate after a loved one is gone.

Want to notify people after you've died? Thanks to several Web sites, now you can.

You can now add another industry to that list. and will help the deceased communicate to friends and family even after they have left this world. Both sites will send out e-mails, provided by the deceased while they are living, to pre-selected people after they are gone. The information could contain passwords, final wishes, love notes, or just a simple message letting an online gaming buddy know that you have passed.

The first question that came to my mind was, “How do these sites know that someone has died?" Deathswitch relies on e-mail prompts that are sent at intervals determined by the user. If those e-mail prompts aren’t answered, Deathswitch assumes the user is no longer with us. Slightlymorbid uses a different approach. It requires a friend or family member of the deceased to log in to pronounce the person deceased.

I am not sure about you, but I see a few problems with this service. What if John Smith is in a foreign country with no Internet access, or John’s family member is mad at him and wants to pronounce him dead? No one wants to get an e-mail saying their best friend John Smith has passed away when he really is still alive. Think of the emotional problems that could cause.

Each site offers slightly different features and services at several different price points. Costs range from a yearly fee of $20 with Deathswitch to a one-time fee of $10-$50 with Slightlymorbid.

Now, I know in this tough economy everyone is trying to find unique ways to make money, but is it ethical to charge the living for a service to be performed after they are dead? Couldn’t the same posthumous information being sent via e-mail be put in letters, or a will, or told to a family member?

However, from a business perspective, if people are willing to pay for a service I suppose someone might as well provide it for them. After all, our society likes to spend money on useless things and services just because they exist.

Either way you look at it, both these Web sites are fulfilling a service that wasn’t provided in the past. Whether you use them or not is up to you.

– Christopher Piatt, CNN Media Coordinator

Filed under: Internet

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Chi Town   April 13th, 2009 10:32 am ET

Kinda like a cyber will....

Not sure if this will take off... I don't want my friends informed by e-mail... I think I'll let the family handle that.

As for the important stuff... have to read the will for that.

Celidah   April 13th, 2009 10:59 am ET

I don't see a problem with it. IMO, these services easily fall into the same category as other products and services for the deceased, such as tombstones or funeral services. As long as their company policies are ethical, I think the overall idea sounds good to me. As you yourself pointed out, if people have a problem paying for it, they don't have to, and can set something up themselves for totally free (will, email, letters, etc.).

I can see your point about the problems with no Internet or using the service towards malicious ends, but those seem to me as problems that can be worked out as those sites improve their business model.

Frankly, my call is that if they can make money off it, then good for their creative entrepreneuring.

Sean   April 13th, 2009 11:32 am ET

This is sort of supply-and-demand in reverse. Generally, if there's a need, a service pops up to meet it. Now we have a service popping up in the hopes that someone somewhere will need it. I personally don't see anything wrong with it, and if I had the disposable income, I might take advantage of it. Seems kinda offbeat, and I definitely see the use of it.

Franko   April 13th, 2009 3:57 pm ET

Spam, even from the dead, does a lot of harm
The information, to track and eliminate, is there with NSA FBI CIA ATF KGB British Secret Service, Lucifer and St. Peter - (Need, Necessity, Ability) but Big Brother, watching, just cannot be bothered

What do the "responsible men of the leadership class"
gain from allowing such a mess ?

The early Tweeters get the worms « James McPherson’s Media & Politics Blog   April 14th, 2009 2:54 am ET

[...] even worse, now I find out that I might have people sending me electronic messages from beyond the grave. To my relatives: If you want to talk to me after you're dead, do it the old-fashioned way, [...]

Ben   April 14th, 2009 7:19 am ET

i understand why this service would exist, it makes alot of sense to me (as an online gamer) i mean, ive played the same game for 5 years, and have lots of friends ive met through it. I do see the ethical issues however... like it said in the article... what if mr smith is in a country without internet or what if his wife decides shes angry at reports him as dead to the service. Its a clever idea but needs some kinks worked out.

DD   April 15th, 2009 9:53 am ET

Another new service is . It provides memorial webpages and email functions.

MrSatyre   April 15th, 2009 11:01 am ET

Never mind what happens when these sites (now made famous by news articles like this one) are hacked and valuable and private information is stolen.

Thanks, but no thanks. I'll stick to what's called a will. I can put all that information inside it and it stands a far lower chance of being stolen and abused.

Derik   April 15th, 2009 1:56 pm ET

I've been looking for a service like this for 5 years. I had a friend I kept contact with online pass away, and didn't find out until some time later– no one knew to contact me.

As more of our personal communication move online, people often don't know who your "circle of friends" is anymore.

Gaylet   April 16th, 2009 1:09 am ET

This arena is open to everyone....but, doesn't this kind of take
it to a new level? Don't think this will help anyone in the
grieving state,.

ant   April 16th, 2009 9:08 am ET

I guess it would really be effective considering that people don't really check their emails as often as they should. So I can imagine someone forgetting to check their email and not responding to the email prompts, and the next morning their family and friends recieve death notices via email ... lol... there has to be a better way to do this...

Shaye   April 16th, 2009 2:09 pm ET

I don't know; this could be a really useful thing for letting some people know–my parents don't know all my online buddies and forums I visit, and I don't think I want to ask my husband to let my old flame know I've died, even though they've met several times.

But there probably is a better way to do it. Too much possibility for screw-ups with a very sensitive subject.

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