Frequently Asked Questions

General questions
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How it works
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Security, Terms, and Legal Info
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Questions about creating/saving/editing your notes
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Miscellaneous
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General questions

1.
Where did you get the idea for if i die.org?
I got the idea for this website one morning after reading about a young student kind of like me who had dropped dead in the middle of the street, for no apparent reason - his heart just stopped beating. It made me think about how strange it would be if I were just snuffed out like that, all of a sudden. And one of the things that bothered me most was the thought that I'd leave a little bit of a mess in my wake. For instance, my parents are my next of kin, and they'd be left trying to figure out what to do with all my junk. Also, I have a lot of files and pictures that are locked up in my computer, and I would want my parents to have my password. And finally, there are a few personal notes I'd want to send to my friends, some final words and the like. So for me, the site serves as some combination of an informal will and the manila envelope that the good guy gives to the reporter in the movies. Some of my friends have thought of other ways to use the website, so feel free to do whatever you like. If you think of something interesting, let me know.
2.
How do I use if i die.org?
There's a page with pictures that describes how it works in detail. Click here to learn more.
3.
Can I change or delete a note after it's written?
Yes, you can make changes to your notes, and to the recipients as well.
4.
What kind of information can I put on if i die.org?
It's really up to you. I initially just wanted to be able to leave some simple instructions in case of catastrophe, so that the people I care about wouldn't be left guessing what I would have wanted. Other people use if i die.org to make an informal will and testament, to write personal letters to close friends, to build a time capsule, or even to leave behind something like the manila envelope that the good guys give to the reporters in the movies before doing something dangerous. It's probably not the best idea to upload super-sensitive info like bank account numbers - to here or to any other website - but beyond that, do what you like!
5.
Is it free to use?
Yes, the site is completely free and supported by donations from the people that use it. There are no hidden costs or anything sketchy - it's a free website. If, at any time, I find it necessary to charge for some of the services on this website, those people who signed up for free will not have to pay to continue using if i die.org.
6.
Is it safe?
Yes. Remember, my information and many of my friends' information is being stored here too, and the last thing anyone wants is for that information to get out! Me and my friends have built many other large, secure websites from the ground up - these sites store millions of credit cards and bank numbers (such as HOTorNOT, crunchyroll and 10over100.org), and we know quite a bit about encryption and network security. if i die.org implements several different and overlapping layers of security to make sure that everyone's information is safe, from using SSL on network connections, to using NSA-approved two-way encryption on your notes, to keeping all the computers in a locked cage in a data center with 24/7 security guards and video surveillance. If you're a geek like me and want to know more about the details of the algorithms and security mechanisms in place, I've written a separate faq entry that gets into the specifics. If you don't understand it, ask a friend who does - you shouldn't use the site if you're not convinced that your information will be safe!
7.
Are you getting paid for this?
No, I'm not getting paid. Though I do appreciate any donations you can afford. It doesn't really matter how small. Click here to donate.
8.
Who are you?
I'm Josh. There's a picture of me on the friends page. I'm pretty much a normal person like you, except I've had a lot of experience building large, secure websites. Right now I'm a PhD student in Berkeley, California.

How it works

9.
If I don't die, how do I know my notes and letters WON'T be released?
As long as you're still alive and responding to emails and SMS messages, your notes will remain locked. The only way your notes will be released is if somehow you go completely off the electronic radar for four weeks (or months), and at the same exact time every one of your SafeGuards manages to go completely off the electronic radar as well. It's like a bank vault that has a time lock and two synchronized keys: When your friend tries to read his/her note, the first time lock clicks in - you will be immediately notified via email/SMS that someone is trying to read your letter. You then have two weeks to respond and tell if i die.org that you are still alive (this is customizable - it can be up to two months). If you respond, all your letters will remain locked. If you don't respond, the second time locks clicks in - if i die.org will attempt to reach your SafeGuards, who will then have an additional two weeks (or months) to respond. Your notes will only be unlocked if, in the four weeks/months, neither lock is reset by you or your SafeGuards.
10.
What if I go traveling or am otherwise away from my email for a long time? Will my letters be released?
No, your letters will never be automatically released. Even if you are completely out of contact, your notes should remain safe as long as you are still alive. This is what your SafeGuards are for - as long as they think you're still alive, your notes should be safe. This is because even if YOU stop responding to emails, no note will be released unless every one of your SafeGuards ALSO stops responding to email at the exact same time. And, during those two weeks/months, one of your friends would have to deliberately betray you and try to read the letter. And, that person would have to be willing to run the very high risk that you would find out what he/she had done! Such circumstances are not entirely impossible, but they do seem pretty unlikely. Finally, you have the option to make the time window longer: By default, if i die.org will try to contact you for two weeks, then try to contact your SafeGuards for two weeks (for a month total). If you like, you can extend this period to be up to two months for you, and two more for your SafeGuards (for four months total).
11.
If I die, how do I know my notes and letters WILL be released?
if i die.org won't magically know that you've died; instead, it relies on the fact that your closest friends will. When you join if i die.org, you will be asked to specificy a few SafeGuards - some of your closest friends whom you trust the most. These SafeGuards will be notified that you've joined if i die.org, and in that email there will be a link with instructions for what to do if something happens to you. If they ever click that link, the verification process will be initiated to determine whether you are in fact dead (this process is described above). If, heaven forbid, if i die.org determines that you have died, all your letters will be sent to their intended recipients.

If you're worried that your SafeGuards will forget about your notes, you can set up if i die.org to automatically send them reminders every few months so that they will always have the information handy (this is completely optional!). Finally, if you're still worried that your SafeGuards won't remember to release your notes if something happens, you can choose to have the note recipients be notified when you write them a note. This notification won't give them immediate access to the letter you've written, of course, but it will provide a link which they can click if they believe you're dead.
12.
What if all of my friends forget that I've joined if i die.org - how will my notes get sent?
In short, if everyone forgets that you've joined if i die.org, your notes will never get sent. There are a few mechanisms that help ensure that this doesn't happen, but it's up to you whether or not you take advantage of them. When you write a new note, for instance, you can have if i die.org send the recipient a notification message to say that the note exists. You can also set up your account to send these people annual/semi-annual reminders about the notes. These and other features are totally optional and you don't have to use them; however, I'd recommend you enable a few of them to ensure that your friends remember that your notes exist.

Security, Terms, and Legal Info

13.
Can you tell me a little bit more of the specifics of the security?
As a first layer of security, if i die.org uses SSL encryption on all pages when you are logged in (that's what the s in https stands for). SSL ensures that all the data you are transmitting over the internet is secure, so that even if someone were evesdropping on your wireless connection, all the data you transmit to if i die.org would still be safe.

All user passwords are stored using a one-way SHA-1 encryption hash, which means that even if someone stole my servers, they would never be able to know what your password was. The notes themselves, when encrypted, are encrypted using AES encryption (the Rijndael cipher), which is the only cipher approved by the NSA for top secret information. AES relies on a private key/public key mechanism so that no one - including me or any database administrator - can decipher the notes without the secret key. By default, these keys are stored on our secure webservers, but if you prefer, you can configure your notes so that these encryption keys will never be stored. If you choose to have if i die.org not store your encryption keys, your notes will be incredibly safe, but it also means that if you lose your key, the note will be irretrievably lost.

The databases and webservers are all stored in an offsite colocation in a locked cabinet in a cage that only myself and a couple of my friends can access. The cages are in a state-of-the-art facility with keycards, 24/7 surveillance, and other physical security measures. Trust me, it's not cheap! Those are the basics - if there's something you're concerned about that you think might be missing, email me and I'll add more details to this faq entry.
server monitor
14.
I'm worried that you or someone who runs the site will read my personal information!
When you save your note, it is stored in a database that only I have access to. You have the option of immediately encrypting your notes so that even a database administrator would be unable to read them - if they tried it would look something like "WOEIo38kw6DDXpasX0...". You can read more about the technical details here, but the point is that no one can access your information without your encryption key - including me and anyone else who has access to my computers. This isn't to say that you should upload your bank account and credit card numbers -- here, or on any other website -- but no one will be reading your information unless you want them to. Remember, many of my friends are using this website; the last thing I want is to accidentally read the notes they've written - so I've put security measures in place to make sure that will never happen.
15.
Is the information I put on if i die.org legally binding?
No. This site is not meant to be a substitute for a legally binding will, or anything of that nature.
16.
Are there terms of service or a privacy policy?
Yes, there are terms of service and a privacy policy, and it is important that you read them both. Among other things, the terms of service disclaim liability for any damages that may result from your data being released, whether intentional or unintentional. Though if i die.org has security measures in place to help protect your data, these measures are not foolproof and as a result, if i die.org WILL NOT BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY DAMAGES OF ANY KIND that result from desired or undesired, intentional or unintentional, or any other kind of access to the information that you store on this website. Again, please refer to the terms of service and privacy policy for precise legal information.

Questions about creating/saving/editing your notes

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How do I create a new note?
Once you've logged in to if i die.org, click on the "My Notes" tab at the top of the website. You will then see a link to create a new note. Creating a note involves three steps: (1) Writing the note, (2) Selecting one or more recipients for the note, and (3) Encrypting and storing the note.
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Can I make changes to a note I've already finished writing?
Yes, of course you can. Once you've logged in, go to the My Notes page. There you will see a list of completed notes, which will allow you to edit, update, or delete any of the notes you've written.
19.
How and when are my notes encrypted?
After you've written your note, you will be asked if you want to encrypt it. If you opt to encrypt your note, you will be asked to choose an encryption password. This password will be used to lock the note, by scrambling the text into a bunch of gibberish that can only be unscrambled with the encryption password. It may sound simple, but it's the same extremely secure algorithm that the National Security Administration uses to encrypt Top Secret information. Encrypting your note adds an extra level of security, because then NO ONE (not even the most sophisticated hacker) will be able to read your note. However, it also means that the intended recipient will need to know the encryption password. For this reason, if i die.org will automatically send the encryption password to the recipients of encrypted notes. If you do not want the recipient to know that the note exists, do not encrypt the note, and do not check the box labeled "Send notification email."

Please note: Even if you choose to encrypt your note, it will not be encrypted until you have confirmed all the details. As you are saving drafts and making changes to the recipients, the note will be stored in plain text so that you can easily edit it. When you finalize the note, it will be locked using an encryption password of your choosing and the plain text version will be deleted. At this point your note will be locked and you will be unable to view or edit it without the encryption password.
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About your encryption passwords(s)
When you finalize your note, you have the option of locking it with an encryption password (a cryptographic hash - see above for details). You can use the same encryption password for all your notes, or a different encryption password for each note. If you lock your note with an encryption password, then anyone who attempts to read that note will not be able to read it without the encryption password. If for some reason you or the note's recipient loses or forgets the encryption password, a special form can be used to recover the encryption password. However, if you are extra paranoid, you have the option to disable encryption password reminders. If you choose to disable encryption password reminders, if i die.org will not store your encryption passwords. While this will make your note incredibly secure, it will also mean that if you or your recipient forgets the encryption passwords, there will be no way to recover the note that you have written. Let me repeat that: if you disable encryption password reminders, then forget the encryption password, there will be no way to recover your note, no matter what. That's part of the beautfy of the encryption, but it does make it risky if you think you or your note's recipient might lose the password. For this reason, I would recommend leaving encryption passwords enabled.
21.
What are "SafeGuards" and why do I need them?
The point of SafeGuards is to provide an added layer of security in case, for whatever reason, you can't be reached via email/SMS. If your friend Joey tries to read the note you wrote him, the first thing that will happen is that if i die.org will start sending you messages so that you can prevent Joey from reading the note. If you happen to be on a three-week hiking expedition in the Himalayas when Joey tries to read his note, there's a good chance that you won't be able to respond to these emails/SMS messages. This is where the SafeGuards come in. Before letting Joey read the note, and after you've failed to respond to these messages, if i die.org will contact your SafeGuards to give them the chance to block Joey from reading the note. If you're still alive, they will be able to click on a link and permanently lock the note. If you're dead, they won't have to do anything - Joey will be allowed to read the note after a short period of time. The SafeGuards can't unlock any of your messages, but they do help ensure that your messages stay locked while you're alive. The SafeGuards should be people you really trust - people like your parents, your siblings, or your spouse. It's not required that you have SafeGuards, but your letters are definitely safer if you have SafeGuards in place.
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What if my friend doesn't want to be a SafeGuard?
That's okay. When you list someone as a SafeGuard, that person will have the opportunity to accept or decline the offer. While most people are honored to serve as SafeGuards, sometimes people prefer not to. We will let you know what your friend decides; if he or she declines your offer, you should just move on and choose someone else.
23.
What if I don't want my friend to know that I've written them a note?
You don't have to send your friend a notification that you've written a note. To stop this notification from being sent, on Step 3 of note creation ("Note Options"), first uncheck the box labelled "Encrypt this note" - this is required because hte notification email is what contains the encryption password. Then, under advanced options, uncheck the box labelled "Send notification email". If you choose not to send these notification emails, it's critical that you have reliable SafeGuards, otherwise the website will never know that your notes should be unlocked.
24.
On the settings page, I can specify the "User response window" and the "SafeGuard response window" - what's that mean?
The "user response window" is the amount of time you're given to respond to an alarm before we contact your SafeGuards. The default period is 14 days. This means that if someone tries to unlock one of your notes, we attempt to contact you - and you alone - for 14 days, to give you the opportunity to say you're still alive keep the note locked. If those 14 days pass and you don't respond, then we will attempt to contact your SafeGuards for the duration of the "SafeGuard response window" (the default is another 14 days). During that second 14-day period, your SafeGuards will have the opportunity to say that you're still alive and that your notes should remain locked. Thus, the default behavior is to give you 28 days after someone tries to unlock your note before that person will be allowed to read the note. If you're going to go travelling, or are the type of person who doesn't check email very often, you should probably make these windows longer.
25.
On the settings page, why would I specify a nickname?
This was Jenny's idea. In her words: "I'm jennifer. and when websites, especially ones that seem to be official or at least refer to official aspects of self, such as life, death, security, etc., ask me for my name i say jennifer. but i'm jenny. and when emails from me or about me go out to other people, they should go out as jenny, since that's recognizable, instead of jennifer, even though that official."
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What does it mean to "send reminders to SafeGuards" and "send reminders to note recipients"?
If you like, if i die.org will automatically short notices to your SafeGuards to remind them that you've joined if i die.org. This reminder note will contain instructions for what to do if something happens to you. You can set these reminders to be sent every 3, 6, 12, or 24 months, or not at all. Similar reminders can be sent for each of the notes you've written, so that the recipients will remember that a note exists. We recommend that you at least enable the SafeGuard reminders, to ensure that people will remember to release your notes if necessary.

Miscellaneous

27.
Where can I send feedback?
I'm always curious to know how people are using if i die.org, and whether or not they find it useful. Please email me if you have feedback.
28.
What happens if Josh dies?
While I was the primary architect of this website, there are two trusted colleagues with whom I've been working and consulting on many aspects of the site. I've left detailed instructions on if i die.org that will enable these colleagues to take over administration of the site should something happen to me. I can't guarantee that they'll maintain the website in my absence, but they've promised to take care of things for at least a few years to allow all members to make necessary arrangements.
29.
Can I see some of the rejected doodles from the website?
That's an odd question, Nick. But yes, you can.
30.
I have a question that isn't answered in the FAQ.
Feel free to send me an email.


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