T-Mobile: your dead dad's active phone will let you stay in touch


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Stay classy.


Arg, that is genuinely hard.

When I pass away my life is stored on $service. Really, it is. I think it might be slightly less ephemeral than photo books.

So is the rep that mentioned the option sensitive or not savvy enough to walk the grieving person on their options?

I for one cast no stones in this circumstance.


They might even just be a drone in a call center required to stick to a script. Hard to tell what to think, or how to judge.

Pffft. Typical amateur service from T-Mobile. Verizon will offer you help to dig up your dead relative so you can take one last selfie with them.


I work for a phone company and people asking for this is a real thing. If there is a way to tactfully raise the option it should be done, rather than somebody thinking of it next day after everything’s been wiped.

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Oh god, that’s horrible! You’re horrible! This thing is horrible! Everything’s horrible! Argh!


I work for a phone company and people
asking for this is a real thing. If there is a way to tactfully raise
the option it should be done, rather than somebody thinking of it next
day after everything’s been wiped.

How about offer people a way to retrieve the stored data before you close the account? That shouldn’t be so hard. I think holding the account open just so you can hear their voice is a little more than crappy, and if people really don’t know any better and think they need your service to continue to hear the recording… You can see where this looks like you are taking advantage right? "We have the last recording of your dead relative, and you are closing the account, but maybe you want to leave the account open just so you can hear it? "


You have a much more dim view of basic human action than I do. Why go straight to evil when ignorance is more likely?

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Instead of being shitbags, why not just have a built in dead relative response that is actually sane? If someone reports that the reason why the line is being canceled because the person is dead, close the line differently from normal. Namely, save the data for a year and ask if they want the public stuff sent via e-mail or whatever. Hell, just keep the fucking line open and let them know what it will stop taking messages after a week or two. If someone calls sobbing because they don’t want you to turn it off, don’t fucking charge them the cost of a line, charge them the cost of having a glorified answering machine… which is nothing, or so close to nothing that it is a rounding error.

It takes almost no effort to not be a shit. Whatever handful of cash a phone company might get from dead people who don’t cancel isn’t worth the pissed customers when a douchebag sales rep suggest you keep shelling out to pay for a dead person.


Is this related to the German telco a few years ago, going far out of their way to preserve a late customer’s voicemail message for her widowed husband? Via the move from analogue to digital, the greeting message was threatened & they endeavoured to transfer it to the new service.

'Cos it sounds like a genuinely lovely story has been transmuted into a rather heartless “Try our dead spouse service!” pitch.

The old German widower there might have little use for an AIFF file or whatever, but generally an executor should be offered the deceased voice recording I think.

Great idea! What could go wrong with a corporation saving private information for an extended period of time without consent and releasing it to others?

But why stop there? Lets make the phone company keep this line assigned to a dead guy, instead of recycling it and reassigning it. And if the cost of having an answering machine is so close to nothing to be a rounding error, I guess all the people who are prepaid are being royally ripped off when they have to pay per-minute charges for this service.

If you really want to know the cheapest way to handle these issues, it would be for the survivors to make a recording of the voicemail message on their own. This avoids telco privacy issues and much less expensive for others. I’m sure it’s a very different experience than simply being able to call the deceased’s number, though.

That’s not horrible, that’s good customer service.
Now the real question is, did he get charged an early termination fee…


We’ll never know the exact story. T-Mobile probably has dedicated “retention” agents trained (and incentivized?) to talk people out of closing accounts, so this could be a crass ploy to improve the numbers. Or it may have been a well-meaning suggestion from another human being. Or both; people are complicated.

In any case the norm should be to think of a person’s private voicemail, messages, call metadata and whatever else as their personal property, exactly as a bank would think of stuff in your safety deposit box. Hospitals, credit scoring companies, Google, telcos-- they all store your private information under a fundamental assumption that it belongs to them, and revealing it to you is a favor they have every right to refuse or charge for. Sooner or later society will work out our basic standpoint on this, and I hope and believe it’ll be the exact opposite of the current default.

By contrast, when I called Sirius-XM to cancel my deceased father-in-law’s account, they terminated his account and refunded the last month’s payment during the course of a 10 minute phone call.

I don’t know if it was a function of their corporate culture or just one kind employee, but their decency at a tough time was greatly appreciated.

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My father passed away a year ago. I have, on my old T-Mobile phone, multiple “visual voicemails” from him.

I can play these on the old phone, but T-Mobile seems unable to transfer them to the new phone. They don’t seem to be saved if I call my mailbox directly. They have to be saved somewhere if I can still play them, right?

Under HIPAA patients have the right to access their own records. Under the FCRA credit reporting agencies have to provide individuals with all information on file, including the sources of that information and everyone who has requested a report on you in the last 1 year (2 years for employment-related requests).

And I don’t know why you think that treating voicemail/messages/data as personal property would change much in this situation: the survivors are not the deceased, and as such don’t own this property. Indeed, laws protecting this as property would make it impossible to facilitate the data transfers you’re probably imagining. I mean, should Google hand over mail passwords for dead people? Will they want to read emails/listen to messages between the deceased and his/her extra-marital lover? Would the deceased want that?

“Loyalty” reps are “incented” to retain paying customers. If T-Mobile makes no provision for their personnel to not lose bonus money when the erstwhile paying customer is, in fact, deceased, then that flaw in their policies is part of the problem.

I think the safe deposit box at the bank is actually a pretty good (not necessarily perfect) model for personal data.

IANAL, but doesn’t a safe deposit box work something like this:

  • I have a safe deposit box with some unknown contents.
  • I die.
  • If I have a will, the contents of that safe deposit box pass to my designated heir(s). After the will is out of probate, the contents of that box absolutely do belong to my heir, and they can retrieve it at will.
  • If I don’t have a will, there is an orderly legal process for who gets my stuff (usually something like surviving spouse, surviving children, surviving siblings, etc. in that order). If the state gets to the end of the list and can’t find anyone, my stuff reverts to the state.
  • Either way, someone gets my stuff.

Now, what if the stuff in the box is jewelry? Or a stack of savings bonds? I definitely want my heirs to attain that property. I don’t want it to pass to the bank.

What if the stuff in the box is a stack of love letters that reveal a life-long illicit affair and infidelity? I need to direct the executor of my will to retain an attorney, whose instructions are to go to the bank, retrieve the documents, and destroy them without further inspection.

As I said, IANAL, but even if I’m dead wrong about how the safe deposit box thing works, I still think its a good model for how data should work.

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Well, your safe deposit box could also include your email/voicemail/whatever passwords so that your heirs could access them. Or we could deal with these things directly through a will, as you suggest. But in both cases we have a deliberate decision by the deceased to pass on this information, and this is very different than expecting corporations to give up this personal information to survivors without the consent of the deceased.

Nothing. If you read the words I actually wrote, you would have seen the words “Namely, save the data for a year and ask if they want the PUBLIC STUFF sent via e-mail or whatever”. The voice mail message is obviously public and there is no privacy concern. As for saving all of the data (but not releasing it), I thought it was obvious enough through inference, but let me spell it out. You save all the data in case when the will executes you find that that too was legally released to someone. It isn’t an extended period of time, it is year. It is a trivial burden on the telcos to save a little data for a year, for a dead person. There is no privacy concern as it is only released if there is a legal will that requests it. Basically, you save it just long enough for grieving people to get their shit together and lawyers to poke through the will.

The cost of having a computer switch to a recording when a call comes in is literally a rounding error. It takes up no precious bandwidth. You can use Google voice to go get a new free number that will send anyone you know a different voice mail if they call it for free. The major cost for a cell phone company is buying up spectrum (which wouldn’t be used) and equipment to blast in that spectrum (again, not used).

And corporations are free to do that. They can bug someone to keep the line open at full price, instantly zap all of the data, and in general act like ass hats. I support their right to act like stupid assholes. That said, that is a dumb way to behave. Someone canceling a line because the person died is clearly a special case. From a crudely cynical profit maximization point of view, you have a customer likely in an emotionally vulnerable point. You can either have them tell friends and family that when they called up to cancel that request was handled respectfully and they were surprised by a thoughtful and empathetic response (whatever that “right” response might be), or they can forever loath that corporation because some shithead tried to squeeze an extra $20 out of them instead of showing an ounce of sympathy.

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