It may be the last thing you think about, but your heirs need your passwords

A huge number of locked, inactive accounts must be lurking inaccessibly online


Passwords have existed since ancient times: Roman soldiers used a complex system of password exchange to distribute messages from one wing of the army to all the others. It was an efficient way of making sure you shared information with friends, not foes. But modern passwords no longer seem to be succeeding on either count.

Two brothers this week have found themselves unable to access their late mother’s iPad. Anthea Grant had security settings enabled, but died without giving the necessary passwords to her children, presumably because the cancer which killed her was a little distracting. Apple refused to divulge the information without Mrs Grant’s written consent, and on learning that she was dead, proposed a simple alternative: a copy of her death certificate, a copy of her will, a solicitor’s letter and, finally, a court order.

Considering that the dinner ladies working in the NSA canteen can almost certainly check out Mrs Grant’s email history and her highest score on Angry Birds, this seems like an unnecessary level of protection. And it doesn’t require an enormous leap of empathy to see that perhaps someone dealing with the death of a parent has more important things to do than trying to unlock an iPad.

It makes me wonder how many locked, inactive accounts must be lurking inaccessibly online. Insurers tell us that we should make sure there’s a note of our accounts and passwords in our wills, but I don’t know anyone who’s ever done so. How would you remember to update the list if you had to change passwords? Most of us don’t spend every day wondering how our loved ones will deal with the administrative fallout of our deaths. And those who do could use a walk in the sunshine and a bun to raise their spirits.

How many passwords do you think you have in total? There are important ones for internet banking, phone and utility bills. Then there are passwords for online shops which hold our credit card details – certainly no one wants those to be hacked. And then there are the endless passwords for places which really don’t require them – websites you’ll use once, but which require you to register nonetheless.

And, of course, the sites which operate under the mistaken belief that their content is enormously important and potentially hackable. I value a good knitting pattern more than most, but I still don’t think I need a secure account to access them. If someone wants a pattern that badly, I think we should just agree as a society that their need is greater than mine. Similarly, I have to log into secure sites to access television programmes to review. The level of security is all too often inversely proportionate to the quality of the work.

It is fair to say that I can remember, at most, 10 of these passwords. The rest of the time I simply click on the Forgotten Password button, and the company bungs it over to my email. If that were always possible, I can’t help but think that I probably didn’t need the password in the first place. And surely the companies in question don’t want their databases clogged up with vast quantities of moribund accounts.

But in that case, they need to make it easier for us to close accounts when we don’t want them any more, or when someone dies. It’s not unreasonable to require documentary evidence, but shouldn’t a death certificate be sufficient to prove a death? Demanding a court order to protect privacy is a bit rich coming from Apple, a company which had to patch its software last week, because a glitch left accounts vulnerable if used on unsecured Wi-Fi. The problem had gone unnoticed by the company for several months. If Apple is so concerned about the privacy of its dead customers, why doesn’t it extend that protection to the living?

Cafés are not ideal for furry friends

On the subject of wills, a new survey has revealed that pets are the least popular bequests: 41 per cent of us would rather not be left an animal in someone’s will. This suggests to me that the 59 per cent majority of us would like nothing more than the chance to acquire a free dog, cat or budgerigar. We really are a nation of animal lovers. But for those of us who don’t have the space for a pet, there is a strange alternative in London: a cat café.

Despite concerns from the Cats Protection charity, the café is booked solidly for the next two months. Londoners, it seems, are in need of a furry friend or two. I wonder if some of these cat fans couldn’t volunteer for a few hours at a local animal sanctuary instead. They have cats to stroke and tea to drink, and they can usually use some extra help.

Natalie Haynes is the author of ‘ The Amber Fury’, out now

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions