He calls it capitalism. I call it identity theft.Does this feel a bit like grave-robbing to anyone besides me?
Tributes.com, which "harvests" death notices from the Social Security Death Index, claims to have a listing for everyone who has died since 1936.
Its founder, who has turned his attention to launching a DJ talent agency, expects profits to "explode."
|It's a creepy industry, exploiting the grief of the family and the sympathy of friends.|
It is a competition in which the grief and love of those left behind are callously manipulated to create "traffic," "market share" and "revenue streams," and your loved one becomes a "valuable commodity."
Both firms sell both simple and highly elaborate online obituaries that involve ongoing costs to the families. Legacy.com partners with newspapers; Tributes.com collaborates with funeral homes.
YOU ARE PART OF ITS GLOBAL STRATEGY -- GET USED TO IT
But Tributes.com has devised an ingenious strategy in the battle to dominate the obituary market. It is now using the Social Security Death Index as an "aggregator," to create online obituary pages for everyone who dies, without informing or getting permission from their families, and then trying to turn each one into a lucrative "gathering place" for grievers. It aspires to provide "one centralized national web destination" for all death notices.
"Do you know something about this person's life?" a visitor to these bare-bones Tributes site is asked. "You can enhance his memory by upgrading his public record with words and images, signing his memory book, recording an audio memory or lighting a candle." Tributes.com will make more money, of course, if anyone chooses to express sympathy by choosing any of these options. Visitors are also asked to link the site to their Facebook pages.
My online searches for a number of old friends and colleagues have turned up Tributes obits, either for them or for their parents, and not one of them was created with the consent of the families. Every one was merely a revenue-making "place holder," designed by and for the company to generate traffic, to inspire some sort of "generous gesture" by visitors to the page, and to help Tributes.com become “the global online resource for obituary news.”
IF YOU DON'T WANT AN OBITUARY, THAT'S TOO DAMN BAD
Even those people who had explicitly decided not to have obituaries published about them -- which is my intent as well -- were scooped up by Tribute.com's indiscriminate net, and now their deaths are memorialized and publicized against their wills.
This includes two Sylvia Kronstadts -- what are the odds? -- neither of whom chose to have an obituary but both of whom do have pages dedicated to them, thanks to Tributes.com. and its insatiable need to get "page views." (Here's one of them -- be sure to light a candle for her, or plant a tree in Israel in her name, OK?: http://www.tributes.com/show/Sylvia-Kronstadt-90766191).
I find this to be outrageously ruthless. How dare they attempt to build a "revenue stream" for themselves by confiscating our loved ones' identities and vital information? They are using my father (and probably yours) as bait. He is a prop -- the stiff in the corner -- who has been turned into an "attraction."
How dare they rake in the profits, using the memories of those who were dear to us? How dare they try to seduce our friends into demonstrating their regard by linking to Tributes affiliates, which share the profits for all those food, flowers, trinkets and everything else on the "sympathy smorgasbord"?
|Your friends will be urged to buy you a trinket.|
The search-engine optimization effort by Tributes.com has been so successful that it is already claiming to get well over 2 million hits a month, a number that is growing by 10 percent to 25 percent a month, according to the firm's president, Elaine Haney.
Tributes.com was founded in 2008 by Jeffrey Taylor, a self-described “visionary," who created the highly successful job-search web site Monster.com, a $1.3 billion company that essentially stole the help-wanted market from the nation’s newspapers.
|Internet "visionary" Jeffrey Taylor.|
that rapidly fizzled, except for its obituaries section.
Tributes.com. was created as a separate site in order to steal the obituary market away from newspapers, Taylor brags, the same way Monster.com deprived dailies of help-wanted ad revenue.
"I've made a career out of migrating the whole newspaper to the web, and the obituary section is the laggard category," he told Wired.com last year.
ANOTHER WAR AGAINST NEWSPAPERS IS LAUNCHED
Taylor made himself chairman of Tributes.com and installed Eons executive Elaine Haney as its president. An "esteemed advisory board of funeral luminaries" was created.
Taylor raised $5.4 million from the publisher Dow Jones & Co., along with several chains of funeral homes, to launch Tributes. He tells the Boston Business Journal that he expects to make so much money that he will be able to repay investors the $32 million lost by the Eons venture.
He characterizes Tributes.com “as a social-networking version of the obituary,” where "friends can gather and memories will live on."
"We need to learn from MySpace," says John Heald, vice president for sales at Tributes.com. "When someone dies, there are thousands of condolences. It's a whole new, important, effective way of grieving."
The firm claims "a worldwide, royalty-free license to distribute the content in any form, in connection with the Web site or other affiliated or related Tributes ventures." The lives of our loved ones are the "raw material" for this tacky and outright larcenous industry.
A SLICK WAY TO SELL 'MEMORIALIZATION PRODUCTS'
Tributes’ original plan was to persuade funeral directors to partner with it and to place their customers' obituaries not in the local newspaper but rather on the Tributes site, which "meshes seamlessly" with the funeral-home site, "building an extensive channel of funeral-home partners that sell our online memorialization products to their (client) families" and "leverage our online distribution."
Don't you love it when your Daddy's memory is "leveraged" by a multimillion-dollar corporation?
In other words, each obituary is seen as a "product" that can continue to generate profits "for years, if not generations."
"Newspapers have been getting all the profits," Tributes tells prospective funeral-home partners. "Now it's your turn!"
|Tributes is trying to lure worried funeral homes into its business platform.|
If the funeral-home plan were showing promise, it seems unlikely that Tributes.com would be plundering the Death Index for cadavers to prop up its Internet presence.
FIRMS CLAIM ALL-ENCOMPASSING RIGHTS TO YOUR HISTORY
My other objection to online obituary firms' incredibly presumptuous business plans, which I outlined in detail last year, is that they claim the right, to "a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive right and license to use, copy, modify, display, archive, store, publish, transmit, perform, distribute, reproduce and create derivative works from all Material you provide."
Users are not informed about these scandalous provisions, which give the firms breathtaking rights to profit from your loved one's "life story."
The firms also assert “the right to use your name and any other information about you that you provide in connection with the use, reproduction or distribution of such Material. You also grant the right to use the Material and any facts, ideas, concepts, know-how or techniques ("Information") contained in any Material or communication you send to us for any purpose whatsoever, including but not limited to, developing, manufacturing, promoting and/or marketing products and services. You grant all rights described in this paragraph in consideration of your use of this Site and our services of making Material you provide us available to third parties, and without the need for compensation of any sort to you. "
|Tributes is even trying to put paid obits on the nightly local news.|
JUST DECENT, ORDINARY GUYS AIMING FOR GLOBAL DOMINANCE
If Legacy.com and Tributes.com were countries, we would call them imperialistic. They both openly declare their goals to achieve "global dominance." Their fine print and extensive user agreements raise some very unsettling questions about who owns the lives that are shared so openly in the obituaries and what profitable new “spinoffs” and "derivative works" and "multiplatform presentations" these aggressive entrepreneurial ventures can create using your history, your family, your love, joy and grief.
|They want the whole wide world (and everybody in it) in their hands.|
VAULTS THAT ENCOMPASS THE HISTORY OF OUR SPECIES
They are anticipating huge profits as they become unimaginably massive vaults of individual records that document the stream of lives lived and lost. Legacy.com partners with 124 of the 150 largest newspapers in the U.S. and features obituaries and Guest Books for more than two-thirds of people who die in the United States.
In addition to the almost 7 million obituaries it hosts, Legacy.com offers access to more than 78 million records from the Social Security Death Index.
|Good for our Facebook generation. They're creating their own memorial sites.|
This makes a lot of sense, and in fact the Facebook generation was creating its own “eternal tributes” for their friends long before the Big Guys came along and tried to get rich off the idea. These pages get many thousands of hits and have the added emotional impact of having been created and maintained by those who loved the deceased friend.
LET'S HOPE 'PEOPLE POWER' SCREWS UP CORPORATE PLANS
It may well be these very media that prove to be the undoing of Tributes and Legacy (which would be great), as ordinary people readily create their own memorial sites -- with much greater feeling and ingenuity -- by harnessing the social media they have been using all their lives.
If the kids win, maybe Tributes' founder, Jeff Taylor, can dedicate all of his time to "my true life's passion, which is music." Through his DJ talent agency, Buffalo DJ, he plans to manage other DJs (he's been doing this for fun for years), record them in his state-of-the-art studio and produce his own music festivals.
|Jeff Taylor, in his deejay mode.|
|Taylor's beautiful offices have buffalo heads||all over the place.|
|Well, not ALL over the place, but lots. Sorry, dear buffaloes.|