Apple grants widow access to husband's Apple ID after demanding court order

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Apple's strict data protection policies sparked debate over so-called "digital legacy" issues this week, as the company refused to supply a recently widowed Canadian woman with her late husband's Apple ID password.




According to a report from CBC News, Apple refused to furnish 72-year-old Peggy Bush with her husband David's Apple ID password after he died in August, saying that to do so would require a court order.

Bush, who was unaware of Apple's stringent security policies, knew the hardware passcode for David's iPad, but not his Apple ID. She first encountered a problem when attempting to reload an unnamed card game from the App Store.

Bush's daughter, Donna, reportedly spoke to an Apple representative who said it would be possible to retrieve the lost password with her father's will, death certificate and verbal confirmation from her mother. Donna called back after acquiring the requested documents, but the customer service representative denied knowledge of the matter.

Following two months of back-and-forth correspondence, Apple told the Bush family that recovering David's password would not be possible without a court order.

"I finally got someone who said, 'You need a court order,'" she said. "I was just completely flummoxed. What do you mean a court order? I said that was ridiculous, because we've been able to transfer the title of the house, we've been able to transfer the car, all these things, just using a notarized death certificate and the will."

Because a user's Apple ID and password are tied to payment information and other sensitive data, Apple implements strong safeguards to protect the data from falling into the wrong hands, going so far as to offer optional two-factor authentication via SMS or push notification. Apple IDs are also used to protect against hardware theft via activation lock, though it appears the feature was not activated on Bush's iPad.

"I then wrote a letter to Tim Cook, the head of Apple, saying this is ridiculous. All I want to do is download a card game for my mother on the iPad," Donna said. "I don't want to have to go to court to do that, and I finally got a call from customer relations who confirmed, yes, that is their policy."

After being contacted by CBC News, Apple apologized for what it characterized as a "misunderstanding" and reached out to the Bush family to fix the issue. The company did not comment on current or future contingencies for transferring ownership of digital property after death.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 43
    There will be an emerging body of law / precedent in IP-rights-after-death in the years ahead.

    If my will explicitly transfers ownership of any digital content I own to someone (wife), and I provide that person with my User ID and password to any such content providers (e.g., iTunes), will the courts and publishers honor that -- acknowledging that actual ownership of the content has transfered to the new person?
    lostkiwixiamenbillnolamacguycornchip
  • Reply 2 of 43
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,673member
    Well Apple is not the only one doing this, Try and get someone medical information today. I cover the insurance for my entire family and I am not allow to see their insurance records once they turned 18. My wife and kids have to grant me specific right to allow me to see what insurance was and was not paying for. Even my kids school will not allow me and my wife to share the same online account to access my kids records, why because we have crazy divorce couples and the try and do think to each other through their kids. Yeah it is getting nuts out there.

    With that said Google I am told will provide a family member a complete archive all your online records they have via your gmail log in account. You just need to provide them the necessary documents showing you have right to the information. Like having the POA for the dead person. So be careful, if you think when you die your emails forever locked behind your user name and password. Your family can dig into what you been doing when they were not looking.

    In this case if the husband want the wife to have access to the ID he would have give her the password. You think Apple was wrong to assume the wife was not suppose to have access. It like have safety deposit box, if you do not have the key the bank will not open it for you without a court order. Apple taking this stance protect us all, The government can not come in and say you gave someone the information when they asked. It builds the foundation to keep the government from snoring around. You can not make any exception otherwise the courts will find again them.

    Compare this to a house and a car, both those items were probably titled with both peoples name on the account, so it was joint ownership with right of survivorship. However, without that it is not a easy mater and requires all kind of legal documents to happen.
    edited January 2016 lostkiwixiamenbillcornchip
  • Reply 3 of 43
    Apple received the man's will, death certificate and verbal confirmation from his wife. If his will stipulates that everything goes to his wife and/or daughter, that should include his digital legacy. There's also something here that Apple somehow forgot about: it's called compassion.
    freshmakerxiamenbillcnocbuitallest skilanantksundaram
  • Reply 4 of 43
    There may have been a reason the husband didn't want the wife on the same account!
    lostkiwid0ggnostrathomasawilliams87cornchip
  • Reply 5 of 43
    mac_dogmac_dog Posts: 705member
    There may have been a reason the husband didn't want the wife on the same account!

    that's what i'm thinkin'. i have a room mate who i've known for only 10 years and she has my info. maybe it's an issue of trust.
  • Reply 6 of 43
    adamcadamc Posts: 580member
    bluefire1 said:
    Apple received the man's will, death certificate and verbal confirmation from his wife. If his will stipulates that everything goes to his wife and/or daughter, that should include his digital legacy. There's also something here that Apple somehow forgot about: it's called compassion.
    If you are one of those people whose accounts had been compromised, you would think differently.
    d0ggronnnostrathomasnolamacguyai46thepixeldoc
  • Reply 7 of 43
    tenlytenly Posts: 709member
    There will be an emerging body of law / precedent in IP-rights-after-death in the years ahead.

    If my will explicitly transfers ownership of any digital content I own to someone (wife), and I provide that person with my User ID and password to any such content providers (e.g., iTunes), will the courts and publishers honor that -- acknowledging that actual ownership of the content has transfered to the new person?
    Read the fine print of your agreements.  You'll probably find that all you "own" is a non-transferable license allowing you unlimited use of the media - so my guess is "No" - you can't bequeath any of your digital content to another.  However - having said that - if you're leaving your userid and password - why would the courts need to be involved - the person you left it to could simply log in and download copies of any digital content you actually owned.

    To the best of my knowledge the content of wills become public information once they are read.  It might not be wise to leave a userid and password in your will unless you are certain that someone will have the presence of mind to change your password immediately - lest your account be hijacked by a criminal - especially if there still might be a valid (shared) credit card attached to the account!
  • Reply 8 of 43
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,887member

    After being contacted by CBC News, Apple apologized for what it characterized as a "misunderstanding" and reached out to the Bush family to fix the issue. The company did not comment on current or future contingencies for transferring ownership of digital property after death. 

    I hope the "reaching out" was to assist/hold the lady's hand  to get the court order, rather than circumvent privacy policy. Privacy is a key selling point differentiation for Appe. Don't erode it.
    edited January 2016 lostkiwitomhqd0gg[Deleted User]awilliams87lkrupp
  • Reply 9 of 43
    bluefire1 said:
    Apple received the man's will, death certificate and verbal confirmation from his wife.
    All of those documents are public. Would you like anybody who walks off the street to be able to read your e-mail when you die?
    d0ggawilliams87thepixeldoc
  • Reply 10 of 43
    konqerror said:
    bluefire1 said:
    Apple received the man's will, death certificate and verbal confirmation from his wife.
    All of those documents are public. Would you like anybody who walks off the street to be able to read your e-mail when you die?
    Why would having someone's will give anyone access to accounts and information?  He would obviously need to stipulate a "beneficiary"
    anantksundaram
  • Reply 11 of 43
    I live in British Columbia where the story about Mrs. Bush was covered.  In our local news it's pretty obvious that she relied on her late husband to manage their shared technology needs.  It's an innocent case where he took the password to his grave due to her lack of techno-literacy not realizing it existed.  Her husband might have recorded the password but most likely she had no idea where he did so and his kids seem unaware as well.  It's surprising these days in a world where many baby boomers rely on their children and grandchildren to help them manage their technology.  I'm one of those Millennials. 
    anantksundaram
  • Reply 12 of 43
    calicali Posts: 3,495member
    There will be an emerging body of law / precedent in IP-rights-after-death in the years ahead.

    If my will explicitly transfers ownership of any digital content I own to someone (wife), and I provide that person with my User ID and password to any such content providers (e.g., iTunes), will the courts and publishers honor that -- acknowledging that actual ownership of the content has transfered to the new person?
    This situation has crossed my mind for years.

    Problem is the wife didn't purchase the content so it's not hers. If you could transfer licenses after death it would create a never ending chain of inhereted music/movies/games passed on to children/grandchildren forever for free.
    ronn
  • Reply 13 of 43
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,190member
    jamesnay said:
    I live in British Columbia where the story about Mrs. Bush was covered.  In our local news it's pretty obvious that she relied on her late husband to manage their shared technology needs.  It's an innocent case where he took the password to his grave due to her lack of techno-literacy not realizing it existed.  Her husband might have recorded the password but most likely she had no idea where he did so and his kids seem unaware as well.  It's surprising these days in a world where many baby boomers rely on their children and grandchildren to help them manage their technology.  I'm one of those Millennials. 

    And not ONCE did the thought occur to him to give her his password, or write it down for her, since she depends on it? Sorry, if he did not share it with her in life, then I don't see why Apple should share it with her after death. It has nothing to do with "compassion" as another poster stupidly posted. I wouldn't want Apple to give my family my Apple ID if they lobbied for it either. If I wanted them to have it, I would have given it to them. 
    d0ggronnthepixeldoc
  • Reply 14 of 43
    tenlytenly Posts: 709member
    cali said:
    There will be an emerging body of law / precedent in IP-rights-after-death in the years ahead.

    If my will explicitly transfers ownership of any digital content I own to someone (wife), and I provide that person with my User ID and password to any such content providers (e.g., iTunes), will the courts and publishers honor that -- acknowledging that actual ownership of the content has transfered to the new person?
    This situation has crossed my mind for years.

    Problem is the wife didn't purchase the content so it's not hers. If you could transfer licenses after death it would create a never ending chain of inhereted music/movies/games passed on to children/grandchildren forever for free.
    Do you mean like buying a CD or a record album?
    We used to buy our media and we could leave our collection to someone when we passed on.  

    One night when we were sleeping, the entire industry changed the model without telling us and now we only license it.  The license expires when we pass and if our heirs want to enjoy it - they have to purchase their own licenses.
    edited January 2016 [Deleted User]
  • Reply 15 of 43
    maestro64 said:
    Well Apple is not the only one doing this, Try and get someone medical information today. I cover the insurance for my entire family and I am not allow to see their insurance records once they turned 18. My wife and kids have to grant me specific right to allow me to see what insurance was and was not paying for.
    Medical records are a whole different subject. That's not related to Apple's responses at all. There are specific laws prohibiting releasing medical records without consent.
  • Reply 16 of 43
    djsherlydjsherly Posts: 1,022member
    slurpy said:
    jamesnay said:
    I live in British Columbia where the story about Mrs. Bush was covered.  In our local news it's pretty obvious that she relied on her late husband to manage their shared technology needs.  It's an innocent case where he took the password to his grave due to her lack of techno-literacy not realizing it existed.  Her husband might have recorded the password but most likely she had no idea where he did so and his kids seem unaware as well.  It's surprising these days in a world where many baby boomers rely on their children and grandchildren to help them manage their technology.  I'm one of those Millennials. 

    And not ONCE did the thought occur to him to give her his password, or write it down for her, since she depends on it? Sorry, if he did not share it with her in life, then I don't see why Apple should share it with her after death. It has nothing to do with "compassion" as another poster stupidly posted. I wouldn't want Apple to give my family my Apple ID if they lobbied for it either. If I wanted them to have it, I would have given it to them. 
    The "policy" if it is such is grossly disproportionate to the risk of compromise. You don't need a court order to transfer title to a house for gods sake(if I were to believe a prior post); requiring one to get access to a guys iTunes account is frankly ridiculous in the circumstances. 

    That same policy would also direct you not to share passwords either so I guess we're between a rock and a hard place. 
  • Reply 17 of 43
    jfc1138jfc1138 Posts: 3,090member
    All that effort and publicity to recover an "unnamed card game"? 
    Two months of back and forth???

    Oh oh sure that's plausible. 

    Not


    edited January 2016 ronnnolamacguythepixeldoc
  • Reply 18 of 43
    There are two seperate issues.  1) Does Apple's license agreement disallow transfers.  If it does not, then Will or not, the licenses expires at death.  2) The second issue is whether a will requires probate.  Until a Will is probated in court, there is no legal right for an executor to force a company to provide it information, however companies can deal with the executor for an unprobated will if they so choose.  For instance, in BC, the legislation permits a will to be challenged or an executor to be passed over.  Typically, spouses own most assets jointly so they won't need to probate wills.  However, any large bank account or property owned in one spouses name only will always require court probate.  That being said, forcing spousal executors to seek probate, in an era when Apple is pushing device sharing and family accounts seems a little excessive.  
  • Reply 19 of 43
    tenlytenly Posts: 709member
    So....if Family Sharing is set up - and the head of the family dies.  Is it possible to promote someone else to take on the "head of family" role?  What happens to all of the apps and music that the deceased family member purchased?  Are the other family members still (legally) allowed to access that content?

    It seems like their is a lot to formalize with regards to the disposition of digital property after death.

    For email and social media, I think there should be a way for us to set the instructions for what should happen to our content when we pass on.  One option would be to delete everything.  Another (for sites like FaceBook/Google+) might be to turn the page into a digital memorial for all time.  And yet another might be to turn over the account in its entirety to a named individual or to the estate.  If the sites allow the users to decide what will happen to their property upon death - while they're still alive - users can be sure that their sensitive emails will never fall into the hands of a spouse, parent or child and cause posthumous embarrassment - or even conflicts amongst the living when an ongoing affair is discovered.  It's not just the privacy of the deceased that is being violated, the privacy of the people they corresponded with may also be violated if email accounts are allowed to be claimed by a spouse.  Yet - in other cases, a deceased user may have hundreds of family photos stored in their Dropbox account that they absolutely do want to transfer to their heirs.  

    Each site should be required to collect from users, the users instructions for what to do with the account when they die.  Automatic deletion or automatic transfer to a spouse are not good global options.  People want different things and it's not that difficult to honor the different wishes - so long as those wishes are known.

    (They also need a better way to obtain proof of death - otherwise, I hate to imagine how many accounts will get hijacked by people presenting forged death certificates.... Perhaps they could require a valid death certificate AND at least a 120-day period since the last legitimate sign-on from the registered user so that an account couldn't be hijacked with a fake death certificate as long as it was still being actively used...)
    edited January 2016
  • Reply 20 of 43
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    cali said:
    There will be an emerging body of law / precedent in IP-rights-after-death in the years ahead.

    If my will explicitly transfers ownership of any digital content I own to someone (wife), and I provide that person with my User ID and password to any such content providers (e.g., iTunes), will the courts and publishers honor that -- acknowledging that actual ownership of the content has transfered to the new person?
    This situation has crossed my mind for years.

    Problem is the wife didn't purchase the content so it's not hers. If you could transfer licenses after death it would create a never ending chain of inhereted music/movies/games passed on to children/grandchildren forever for free.
    What you are so fearful of is exactly what should happen.
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