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

Share

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

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

Generalist HR Administrator, Tunbridge Wells, Kent - £28,000.

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Administrator - Tunbri...

Head of IT (Not-for-Profit sector) - East Sussex

£45000 - £50000 per annum + 5 weeks holiday & benefits: Ashdown Group: Head of...

Supply Teaching jobs in Thetford

£21588 - £31566 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

KS1 teachers needed in Peterborough

£110 - £125 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education are ur...

Day In a Page

Read Next
James Foley was captured in November 2012 by Isis militants  

Voices in Danger: Syria is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists

Anne Mortensen
Texas Gov. Rick Perry might try to run for president again in 2016  

Rick Perry could end up in jail for the rest of his life — so why does he look so smug?

David Usborne
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape