In the first two parts of this three-part series, we discussed what Digital Assets were, determined that they have value, and discussed what that value was and why we would care. We’ll wrap up this series by discussing what you can do to keep your assets safe and ensure that they are transferred to others if something happens to you.
First, ensure that you have a list of your digital assets. You can’t protect your assets if you don’t know what they are.
Second, protect what you have! You’ve heard it before: make backups of your hard drive. Make multiple backups. Store one at home for easy access. Store one at your work in case something happens to your home backup, and then, if you really want to ensure that your photos and other intrinsic and emotionally valuable digital assets are secure, send one copy to your bother, best friend, or someone else who lives in another city.
I live in Minneapolis but travel frequently to Atlanta and keep a backup of my drive in a safe deposit box in a bank in Atlanta. If you don’t want to take the time to do this, then at least make a copy on OneDrive, Drobox, or some other cloud based storage service. There are issues with these services around security and transfer of ownership if anything happens to you, but it is better than having no backups at all.
To ensure your privacy, you should encrypt your entire hard drive so that no one will be able to access your assets without your knowledge or permission.
What should you do with all of your website usernames and passwords?
This can be a tough one. There are a number of websites that provide services to remember your username and password combinations, but again, how secure are these and what happens to them if something happens to you? Personally, I put all of my usernames and passphrases in a single file and then encrypt that file with a passphrase that only I and my Fiancé know. If anything ever happens to me, she will be able to access all of my digital assets.
This brings up a very interesting point of law. Is it legal for someone other than yourself to access your digital assets? James D. Lamm is an attorney who specializes in the new and burgeoning area of law that deals with digital assets. He points out that “The U.S. Department of Justice asserts that 18 U.S.C § 1020(a)(2) […] permit the government to charge a person with a crime for violating […] a website’s terms of service.” One of the most ubiquitous websites in the world, Facebook, states In their Terms of Service: “You will not share your password […], let anyone else access your account…”.
If you put these two things together, it can be a federal offense for someone to access your Facebook account, even with your permission!
We won’t resolve the legal issues surrounding access and ownership of digital assets in this article, but it is safe to say that you should store an inventory of your digital assets, encrypted to protect your privacy, and leave instructions for how to access that list in a will, or with a trusted friend or family member.
When I was looking for an elegant solution to my own desire to both protect my information and establish a process for a designated person to be able to access those assets if anything happened to me, I couldn’t find a single service that fit my criteria. It was the lack of service in this area that inspired the new company called SecretValet.
By being aware of your digital assets, protecting them against loss or misuse, and ensuring that they are transferred to others in the event that something happens to you, you are taking control of your property, ensuring that you have enjoyment of your property, that it is used the way you wish, and that its value will transfer to others upon your death or incapacitation.
In the end, isn’t that what we all really want for the things that we have accumulated through the years?