back to article Dying! Yahoo! loses! fight! to! lock! dead! man's! dead! account!

Yahoo! may be compelled to hand over the contents of a dead man's email account to his surviving family, Massachusetts's top court has ruled. On Monday, the US state's supreme struck down an earlier ruling in the Purple Palace's favor in a case regarding the estate of John Ajemian, who was killed at the age of 43 in a bike …

  1. Nick Z

    No need to rule on terms of service

    A private agreement between a company and its customers cannot override the law.

    Because an agreement needs to be lawful and legal. Or else it's invalid.

    Whenever there is contradiction between the law and some kind of an agreement, then the law always takes precedence.

    1. ratfox

      Re: No need to rule on terms of service

      If I understand correctly, the law does not say much one way or another. Yahoo claimed they had no choice by law but to lock the account, and the courts said this wasn't the case.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: No need to rule on terms of service

        What is motivating Yahoo to take this stance? I don't see what they are worried about.

        1. Cheshire Cat
          FAIL

          Re: No need to rule on terms of service

          They've probably already lost the email, and atr trying to get out of admitting it...

        2. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: No need to rule on terms of service

          What is motivating Yahoo to take this stance? I don't see what they are worried about.

          The contents, it it ours. If the tricksy lawyers come and take control of the contents for dead people today, they will come back tomorrow and and take control of the content for live people. We want the contents, it it ours. It makes us money. Filthy tricksy lawyers.

        3. thedogandduck

          Re: No need to rule on terms of service

          Dead users aren't very profitable.

        4. gnarlymarley

          Re: No need to rule on terms of service

          I don't see what they are worried about.

          I know of someone that was erroneously declared dead by the SSN office from Clearfield Utah. I imagine that this could set a precedences of someone stepping in and taking over someone's account. (Which the companies will not be able to verify, but will have to leave that up to a third party, such as a court, to verify idenity.) Granted, I do not know all, but I would guess that maybe the big companies are using this as some sort of excuse to stop the wrong folks from accessing our accounts. If my memory serves me right, facebook did this too some time ago.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: No need to rule on terms of service

            "I know of someone that was erroneously declared dead by the SSN office from Clearfield Utah."

            Was probate granted as a result?

      2. Nick Z

        Re: No need to rule on terms of service

        The way I understand this recent ruling is that the person's email account is a part of his possessions, which the estate manager has a legal responsibility to manage. And managing it involves having access to it.

        Because the judgement says that digital goods aren't a separate class of possessions. Which means that they should be treated the same way as the person's all other possessions.

        Estate managers aren't restricted from viewing the person's private letters written on paper and sent by regular mail. So, why should electronic mail be treated any different?

        This is what the law says about it, according to the judges.

        1. Dr Scrum Master

          Re: No need to rule on terms of service

          Wait for the next judgement to say that they're not possessions but a service...

      3. jmch Silver badge

        Re: No need to rule on terms of service

        Email, social media and all other sort of online accounts are just electronic versions of what in past times would be known as ones 'papers'. And a deceased person's papers are part of their estate.

        No brainer really. Yahoo, Google, FB etc etc are no longer niche sites for post-graduates. They have billions of accounts, they each have probably tens of thousands of account holders who die daily. Surely they must have solid mechanisms to allow a deceased person's lawfaul heirs access to their accounts.

        Of course, I understand that it becomes difficult if they cannot link a physical person to an account...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No need to rule on terms of service

      Whenever there is contradiction between the law and some kind of an agreement, then the law always takes precedence.

      Not only that, but as far as I can tell, the specific law they chose to claim they were legally not permitted to give access happens to have a giant loophole in Section (c ) ("exceptions), in that para 1 seems to exclude the actual service operator itself from that limitation. Duh.

      I have SecureSafe's data inheritance set up. If I croak, someone with the authorisation code can start the inheritance process and after a week they will have access to all the passwords I set up as accessible under that process. If someone tries to do that *before* I die, I get a warning every day that the inheritance has been triggered, giving me a week's time to kill the process by generating a new inheritance code. That stops abuse.

  2. Christoph

    It's not completely straightforward. The deceased person might have sent or received emails that they really wouldn't have wanted their relatives to see. Or someone might have sent them a confidential email containing information that they assumed would not be seen by the relatives.

    That might be for something trivial, but it might also be something really critical.

    Maybe the emails could be checked by a third party such as their lawyer, who would only pass on essential information? I've no idea of the legalities involved.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Same with letters. If you make a will, you have to trust the executor (who is named by you, after all).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      On the other end, they can contain important financial information or the like - which may benefit the heirs, or even other people.

      When a brother (and associate) of my grandfather's suddenly died many years ago, among his legal and financial papers and records (including those about people he lent money to, or owed them), surfaced the letters he exchanged with his mistress. Of course my grandfather was uneasy, but it had a company to keep alive - and it's incredible how people you owed money immediately knock your heirs' door, while those who owe you stay well away (not everybody, sure, good people still exist). And you need the needed papers and record to settle things properly.

      When you die suddenly, without time to prepare, it's a real mess. Heirs will need all the information to protect their rights. Unluckily, it also means some sides of your life you would have like to keep hidden may come to light. Just like life, even death is unfair, sometimes. Just, you'll never know.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "someone might have sent them a confidential email containing information that they assumed would not be seen by the relatives"

      That's a risk the sender has already committed to; there'd be no guarantee that he wouldn't share it during his lifetime..

    4. The Nazz

      Den of thieves

      re Christoph "Maybe the emails could be checked by a third party such as their lawyer, who would only pass on essential information? I've no idea of the legalities involved."

      Don't take this personally but what a stupid f'ing idea, certainly here in the UK

      Lawyer : "We examined your late relatives e-mail account today. The only relevant matter is the new will they drew up with ourselves yesterday, ahem, i meant to say six months ago. And in gratitude of our services, they generously left everything to our firm. Good day to you Sir."

      A few years ago, (no link no bookmark to the actual article of the time), but on the topic of wills and estates, i do remember i was actually very surprised to see the Law Society giving this advice :

      Do NOT make your lawyer, any lawyer, the executor of your estate.

      Repeat DO NOT.

  3. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Since it's yahoo, it would probably be simpler to look up the account on the list of pawned accounts.

    Problem solved.

  4. Florida1920

    If you don't like courts

    Next time you need help, call a hacker.

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