E-mail from beyond the grave

By Xinhua –Global Times Source:Xinhua-Global Times Published: 2014-5-18 19:28:01

Yang, a medical clerk in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province, was surprised to receive a call in November, 2013 telling him that his wife, who had passed away in a car accident two months earlier, had left him a "digital will."

"I was shocked. They sent me an account number and password to log in to their website, and I found my wife had left me the bank account, the account number and passwords for our online stores, and some words for me," said Yang, who requested that he not be fully named.

"I feel grateful. The website helped me learn more about my wife better, and saved me lots of trouble," he said.

The website, "Life's Black Box," yizhu.cn, has attracted more than 370,000 users since it was founded in 2009. Around 20,000 of them have died and their "wills" were sent to the designated people.

Hazardous legacy

Li Jia, the founder of the service, said the idea came from an experience aboard a flight to Southwest China's Yunnan Province, during which the jet was hit by severe turbulence and was on the verge of crashing.

"At that moment I found I had left nothing to prepare for my death at all, but at that last moment, I really wanted to leave something, including some words to my loved ones," Li said.

According to the website's operating procedure, a user needs to set up a sign-in frequency. If they fail to log in within the time, the website will contact the user or the designated friend or relative. If the user is confirmed dead, all information will be transferred to the person designated by the user.

Yang's wife registered on the website in 2011 and set the frequency of logging into the website as every three months.

She was supposed to log in to her account in last October, but the website did not hear from her for weeks and after verifying her death, the website activated the information transfer system, sending the "black box" that she had prepared to her husband and son.

"I feel proud of this service. Although I do not wish to see the days when we need to transfer a user's information, I do believe this can show our care for them. It is the right attitude toward facing death," Li said.

One of the users was recently verified to have been on board the missing MH370 flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, said a notice on the website.

Illegitimate and insecure? 

But the service sparked controversy and concern over the legitimacy and privacy of a digital will.

A Sina Weibo user said this service cannot be taken seriously. "After all, it does not have the force of law, and its security is not guaranteed. Who knows if a hacker has hacked into the website and revised the content?"

But another user said, "We can make a video on our own to leave the account number and password. We can store the information on an encrypted U disk, and avoid the danger of being leaked online."

Secretive business

"Life's Black Box" would not tell Xinhua its exact location in Beijing, nor did it accept Xinhua's request to visit, pleading "user privacy protection."

Zhao Shaohua, a lawyer from the Guangdong Chuangji Law Firm, said that a digital will is not one of the five legal ways to make a will and its authenticity cannot be verified.

"We cannot know whether it's the real will, and whether the writer is under pressure from others, or whether it is fake or not. We cannot even verify the real identities, so the possibility that there will be disputes is very high."

Loyal users

However, many Net users who support the service argued that people need to leave something behind in case of sudden accidents.

"You never know if you will be on board a missing plane or a sinking ship, and as you grow older, you feel the necessity of preparing for that day," said another Net user.

"As Web technology develops, people's demand for this kind of will is growing. At some point, the country will need to regulate this field. A website needs to show its capability to protect privacy and operate under supervision," Zhao said.

However, Li argued that the service they offer is just like an online insurance box for private information including the will before death, personal diaries, work related data and even bank account information.

It costs spend 1,180 yuan ($189) to rent the "online insurance box" for 20 years.

Newspaper headline: Popularity of online wills grows, but experts question legality

Posted in: Society

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