Emails of the Dead
January 4, 2011 2:13 PM   Subscribe

Is there a way to find out the percentage of emails that are to dead people?

I'm sure that if I die and neglect to tell someone my password so they can turn it off in that eventuality, I will continue to receive weekly mailings and spam indefinitely. How much of this is already going on?
posted by drethelin to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Sure, in theory, yes. You would need to know the total number of emails sent each day. You would have to know if each e/mail was sent to someone that was dead or alive, you could then calculate the percentage. However, I would bet this week's paycheck, hell, this YEAR'S pay, that that data is not now, nor will ever be, available.

So, practically, the answer is no.
posted by HuronBob at 2:19 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

This sounds a lot like a management consulting estimation question. In theory, it is knowable, in practice it is probably not known.
posted by proj at 2:28 PM on January 4, 2011

Yeah, I'm guessing that the big ISPs are still in expansion mode, and not in the OMG-what-do-we-do-with-dead-people mode. A couple of years ago I tried to close my account, and found it pretty much impossible, so I gave up trying. They're still holding their cards close to their chest; this may change as the baby boomers start dying off more and they realize they may save on bandwidth.
posted by Melismata at 2:35 PM on January 4, 2011

You could only take a wild-assed guess. And your guess would be based on a mountain of assumptions and really wouldn't be worth figuring out from a database marketing perspective. I don't think there's a database for sale of deceased people from Axicom where you can bounce your email list against a list of dead people and match them. A dead person in the database is the same as the 99.08% of active emails addresses on the house list that didn't respond to the mailing.

There's not really a value in caring how many of an email list is of dead people because the incremental cost of sending that to a person that may be dead is very, very close to zero. Eventually the email will bounce and will be purged from the list.
posted by birdherder at 2:46 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

But a lot of e-mail address providers will close your account after a period of non-activity. I think for Yahoo, it's six months. And other pay-for services will shut you done after you haven't paid your bills for a month or two, which presumably would be happening if you had died.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:47 PM on January 4, 2011

Best answer: I think it would be possible to do so, even for a individual, but for practical reasons you would have to make some key assumptions that would make your result less than accurate.
Here's how I would find out, personally:

1.Get a list of common email providers, other than ISP's, because the existence of that email address is dependent on bill paying an will be closed when that person dies and stops paying.

2. Email them all and ask them about their policies on closing accounts due to inactivity. hopefully they reply.

3. Take all the ones that *do not* close accounts due to inactivity, or only do so after, say, nine months.

4. Send them a very polite email about how you are doing a research project and would like to know what percentage of their email accounts have been inactive for a year or more.
If they comply, you have your base amount, say, 25%.

Now, the problem with that percentage is that it will include people who stopped using the email service for other reasons, such as: no more computer, changed email provider (through changing ISP, work,location, or just getting tired of the username they've had since they were 15yo *cough*.) Many people use multiple email accounts as well which complicates the issue.

Assuming the email providers are cooperative, you can then establish some baseline rates for dumping email addresses by an online survey directed at people who have abandoned one or more accounts.

5. Put a survey together, link to it on your facebook or in this thread and ask people if they have multiple emails, if they have abandoned an address, why they did so, whether they successfully deleted their account, so on.

6. Establish a sort of percentage of people who abandon their email address. Everyone who replies has obviously not done it because of their own death.

7. Subtract that from your base rate above. However! There are various complicating factors. A given person could have had five hotmail address they used for various purposes and got rid of all of them for their gmail, etc, so the survey would in that respect be fairly in depth - number of email address current, previously, reasons for abandoning, etc.

8. Then you can work out, say, that 12% of people have gotten rid of one email address to switch to another, and 1% of people have gotten rid of two email address to switch to another, and 1% of people have gotten rid of one email address for miscellaenous reasons.

9. Subtract them both from your 25%, and get your ballpark 9% dead man account figure.

That's how i'd do it at least. YMMV!
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 4:35 PM on January 4, 2011

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