Leo Tolstoy (right) wrote a story called How Much Land Does a Man Need? Upon inadvertently navigating to this particularly shabby data-harvesting site I ask myself not how much data might a company need, but the titular question: How low can you go? Tolstoy answered his own question at the end of his story with ‘six feet from his head to his heels’. It seems that the owners and backers (google) of findagrave.com have answered my question by adding a third dimension: Six feet under. That’s how low they will go. Especially if there’s any personal data to be had down there. If the dead take any information to the grave with them, find-a-grave wants to dig it up – and sell it.
Grave robbery becomes legitimate business in the Information Age. Those corpses took information with them. Valuable information that can be bought and sold. But, as low as this website’s efforts to recover that information are, they still need our support in this astonishing commercial endeavor to generate sales by violating the privacy of the dead. That’s right. Although they already prominently advertise that their users may access millions of those all-important cemetery records that we all need, find-a-grave does not know it all and requires our help to identify the rest of the bodies. What are they selling? Anything you want to buy, so long as you have the money and there’s a profit in it for them.
There are plenty of tasteless, sick and/or scumbag websites on the net, but collecting personal information on dead people seems at first glance a little bit pointless. It could conceivably have some merit for tracing ancestors or paying respects and indeed this is what some users do go to the site for. It may also be of value to social networking extremists out to build a posthumous social network with cadavers. Anybody who visits the site however, for whatever reason, will inevitably be bombarded with advertisements and hectoring demands that they ‘improve the site’ by uploading further personal information, about themselves and the deceased, for the site to take ownership of, share with google, and resell.
The problem, the market niche that find-a-grave dot com intends to fill, is that some people have been interred without putting it on the Internet. Like Grandma Sally Buck in Midnight Cowboy, they died without letting us know. Google, fb, poor luvs, don’t seem to have any files on these stiffs. Don’t you just hate that? You’re walking along on a fine day, you see some names on gravestones, google them, and…nothing. All those deceased people and you knew so little about them, perhaps now you never will. All you know is that they are all dead. Knowing so little about them suddenly makes you realize that it sucks to be you.
Who were they? What did they do? What did they have to hide? Does anybody know their social security numbers? Their sexual preference? Which products and services would have appealed to them, defined them as individuals? What were their credit ratings like? What music did they have played at their funerals? Were there any copyright infringements? Do they have any living relatives to whom we can hard-sell more of our over-priced useless shit? That last question is key to the enterprise, of course. Dead people have living relatives some of whom are yet to be identified and may even be beneficiaries, inheriting between them all of the deceased’s lovely money. They might not have spent it all yet. We’ve got to find out who they are, where they are, and how much they have left to spend. Respect for the dead can be exploited, sales generated.
Charlatans and Thieves
In times past, it probably still happens today, charlatans and thieves paid people to hang around graveyards and to identify those who were being buried. They would relay the name of the deceased back and when the mourners returned for the wake they found the house burglarized robbing them of their inheritance. More sophisticated crooks would bribe attorneys and get hard information from the last will and testament. Now the corporations are muscling in on these lucrative death scams and getting mourners themselves to post the information in real-time to their social networks. Instead of sending in a truck load of goons to rob mourners the robbery will be carried out via mailshots the money laundered through master cards.
Die today and the information will be used against your family tomorrow. Google will have known about it since yesterday and are already selling copies of your death certificate online containing everything bar the official stamp. Before the law even show up to tell your wife you’ve copped it, before she has had time to identify your body or wipe away the tears, she will be receiving robo-calls, emails, tweets, SMS, and pop-ups advising her of all the latest special offers for funeral and embalming services in her area, the latest fashions for widows, ads from dating agencies, along with the back-dated cancellation of her husband’s life-insurance policy. Offers of full-featured funerals from luxury to economy will be made specially tailored for her recently deceased spouse, while she still thinks her berk of an husband is out at work – or more likely out looking for work.
Wives will learn of their husbands’ deaths from their bank. The bank will let her know that his death automatically upped her credit rating and she has been approved a loan and should go out and cheer herself up by doing some shopping. The letter that informs her of this will contain an insert further informing her of some very special bargains she could spend her inheritance on now if she hurries.
So people, if you’ve got any information about the dead, recent or otherwise, please let Google know. A product’s sale might depend on it.
Have you recently passed away without letting those who are trying to sell you things know? Don’t waste their time any longer. Tap a message into the form below and we will update your social networking profile and mark all further messages sent from your account as spam.
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