Death + the Web Death Ethics

Legacy for Hire

A recent post by Idle Words blog caught my eye. It’s about the unscrupulous practices of, the back end machinery behind obituary notices in newspapers across the country, including, but not limited to, the venerable NY Times.

Idle Words did a little research (which Boing Boing then posted) to uncover exactly what’s going on with Legacy—because their mode of operation is less than transparent. At issue is how their online guest books work and the deceptive and manipulative way money changes hands in the process. The process is this: you sign the guest book after which you are greeted with a warning that states that the guest book will expire in a little over a month. You can make sure this doesn’t happen by paying $29 to keep it up for a year, or go for the eternity package and pay $79 to keep the guest book alive “in perpetuity.”

While that might seem a bit crass, that’s not really the issue. Through some investigation, Idle Words discovered that creating an online death notice is a less than forthright when it comes to the money. At no time in the process do they tell you what the charges are (from $79). For that, you need to drill down into the small print back at (in this case) the NY Times rate sheet page—outside of the confines of the obituary creation stage. I dare you to even find where the rate sheet info is because I can tell you it’s under deep cover—and I’m a librarian!

Says Idle Words:

[The] site takes money from bereaved people without disclosing what it’s billing them, gambling on the fact that they’re probably too preoccupied to care. Whether or not this kind of thing is legal, it is completely unethical. Even an undertaker who has upsold you on everything from coffin to funeral buffet has to show you a number before you sign on the dotted line.

I applaud Idle Words for looking into Legacy’s practices. Maybe this exposure will shame them into changing their “business model”.

2 replies on “Legacy for Hire”

I see that Mr Murdoch’s Times in the UK is similarly afflicted. Mr M is not easily shamed, nor, I guess, the golden-hearted lads and lasses at It has had its share of being badmouthed over the last few years.

It’s a marvellous revenue stream and a tacky site. I see poor Beryl Bainbridge is up there this morning.

And let’s not overlook the labours of partner Obitmessenger: A good many local papers in the UK have bought into this.

At present, people depend on newspapers to tell them who’s dead. I can’t see how anyone could compete with because the consumer is wholly uninformed and therefore powerless. Perhaps the growth of social networking will bring about a better and cost free way of announcing a death, together with a pointer to an ethical and completely free online memorial site like my favourite,

This story is extremely significant for two industry’s in trouble, the newspaper industry and the funeral industry, social media is a significant tool for death notification, as well as a news source. More than info on recently dead friends and public figures, social media now provides info on funerals while they are going on!

The insight from Charles Cowling from the UK is most helpful.

Your Funeral Guy

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