''Protecting the privacy of our users is a top priority,'' said Amanda Millar, a Yahoo! spokeswoman. The company made a commitment to treat everyone's account content as confidential, ''even after death''.
The American composer Leonard Bernstein failed to do that and, 22 years after his death, no one has been able to crack the password to the computer holding his memoir manuscript.
His story alarmed the Sydney writer Mariza O'Keeffe, who is now giving grave thought to the fate of her draft novel The Cut. Every dawn before she goes to work, her tale grows. When she closes her laptop, her nascent novel, now 40,000 words long, disappears behind a password only she knows.
For back-up, she sporadically uses a memory stick, but emails her fresh words to herself every day. O'Keeffe writes dialogue for avatars professionally and has been part of the digital world for almost 20 years. But it was only when she learnt about Bernstein and checked on the Yahoo! policy that she realised if she were to die suddenly, her words - including her novel and her blog - could perish too.
Gmail account holders who want information to be available when they are gone should post it on Google Drive or Google Documents and specify who had access. The cloud is a complex area, because it is storage on the same machines which drive Google search. So they are public machines trying to drive what for many people is something very private; the storage of their valuable information.
Yahoo! users who wanted to ensure their account was dealt with after death according to their wishes, including allowing access to photos or message content by legal heirs, should make it part of their estate planning.
O'Keeffe plans to give her partner, Murrough, passwords and to print her draft book. Unlike Bernstein.
''What a silly man not to do a printout,'' Ms Suttor said.
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