December 10 2014

December 10, 2014

Digital Afterlives

What happens to your social media accounts after you die? Even if you are healthy now, making provisions for your social media accounts after your death is a good idea and will spare family the additional burden of having to decide what to do with your accounts once you’re gone.Choose the person you want to look after your accounts when you’re no longer around: a family member, a friend or an executor of your estate. Let them know in advance your plans – if you want your accounts deactivated or the data (i.e. photos) downloaded and kept. The best advice is to provide a list of usernames and passwords for your accounts, with clear instructions which accounts you want deactivated or data kept. Most social media accounts protect a user’s privacy, even if they are deceased. Often, the accounts of someone who has died cannot be accessed without a legal order or unless certain people were granted access while the owner was still alive. Here is an overview of how different social media sites will deal with your accounts once you are no longer active or they are notified of your passing.

Your Facebook account will continue until Facebook is notified of the owner’s passing. Facebook allows a personal page to be turned into a Memorial Page by family members. A Memorial Page will remain up until it is deactivated by family members, but cannot be changed back to an active account. People who were Facebook friends before the account owner died can continue to post and tag the deceased in photos on the Memorial Page. Facebook will not take any action unless they are notified, even if the account becomes inactive. Only immediate family members, who can offer proof of identity, are allowed to deactivate a deceased’s account and are required to provide proof of death.

Tactfully, Facebook will remove Memorial Pages from its “People You May Know” section and will cancel birthday reminders, so that deceased peoples’ accounts don’t pop up in these functions, disturbing or offending family and friends. Studies show that there may be millions of inactive Facebook accounts.

Twitter has a function that automatically deactivates an account that hasn’t been used in six months and puts the username back into the pool of available account names. If family members of a deceased person wish to deactivate a Twitter account before the six-month deadline, they must provide a death certificate and their own personal ID before they can be allowed to deactivate the account. Once an account has been deactivated, Twitter permanently removes the account 30 days later.

Google will automatically deactivate accounts that haven’t been accessed in nine months. In the event of a user death, Google will provide access to an ‘authorized representative’ but they require a list of documentation, including a death certificate and a form of identification for the representative or family member. Google offers a function for users while they’re still alive and healthy called ‘Inactive Account Manager.’ Users have the option of simply deleting their accounts if they’ve been inactive for a pre-selected period of time (from three – eighteen months) or select key contacts (up to ten) who are sent an email allowing them access to the accounts after they have become inactive. The key contact(s) will have the choice of closing the accounts or downloading the data; however, the original user must specify their personal wishes when they set up the ‘Inactive Account Manager.’ A user must provide both email addresses and phone numbers for their key contact(s), so that Google can later verify the identity of the key contact(s) and allow them access.

Google uses the following key indicators to determine if an account is inactive:
1. Date of last sign-in
2. Recent search history
3. Last Gmail use
4. Last Android mobile check-ins

Google sends an email written by the account holder when they set up the ‘Inactive Account Manager’ and adds its own note at the bottom, that states:
John Doe ( instructed Google to send you this mail automatically after John stopped using his account.

John Doe has given you access to the following account data:
• +1s
• Blogger
• Drive
• Mail
• Picasa Web Albums
• YouTube

Download John’s data here.

The Google Accounts Team

If Google registers that the account hasn’t been accessed by the key contact within a certain period of time, a reminder email will be sent. After this, the account may be deleted, according to the instructions left by the original user.

Pinterest will never give out login details for a user’s account, but will deactivate the account in the event of a death. A family member or legal representative of the deceased must send an email with proof of the user’s death. This proof can consist of a copy of a death certificate or obituary. Unless requested to close an account, Pinterest will not normally deactivate an account; a dead user’s account could potentially stay on Pinterest forever unless deactivated by family or a legal representative.

Linked In is the most flexible of all the social media sites and will allow anyone who knew the deceased to report a death. After confirming the identity of the reporting person, and that they had a close connection to the deceased, Linked In will close the account and remove the profile of the owner. While there has been debate about the privacy of contacts and data on the account of a business owner or partner – does this data belong to the individual or the company? – Linked In states that it recognizes the account holder to be an individual, not a business, and that maintaining an individual’s account for business reasons after they are gone is “inappropriate and unprofessional.” Another individual can download the deceased’s contacts and connections only if they were previously given the deceased’s username and password.

Instagram’s policy on deceased users is similar to Facebook. The site requires that a family member or legal representative fill out a form on their site to advise of a death. Once Instagram has received emails with proof of death, then they will remove the relevant account from their site.

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