Facebook Reconsiders the Digital Afterlife of Their User's Accounts

By the end of 2014, Facebook had 1.35 billion monthly active users. With that staggering number in play, it should not be surprising to know that a fair amount of users die each day. It is actually been estimated that between 8,000 and 10,000 Facebook users die each year. What happens to these profiles when a user dies? 

You can now designate a digital heir to manage your social media life after you pass away. Facebook has created the “legacy contact option,” which gives users the option of designating a friend or family member to be in charge of their account should they pass away. Formerly, once Facebook received notice that an account user had passed away, a user’s heirs would have two options: 1) delete the account, or 2) turn it into a memorial page. 

Facebook is a place to share one’s life experiences and connect with friends and family, and also to remember loved ones. Facebook developed the legacy contact option to allow family members or friends to manage a loved one’s account without compromising the privacy of the deceased individual. Understanding this and talking to people who have experienced a loss, Facebook wanted to support family members who are grieving by allowing the legacy contact have greater control over their loved one’s account so that it serves as a memorial of their life. 

With the legacy contact option, the designated family member or friend can now:
     (1) Post messages on the timeline, which can be beneficial if the family wants to announce a memorial service; 
     (2) Respond to new friend requests, but cannot delete current friends;
     (3) Update the profile picture and cover photo.

Additionally, the user may give their legacy contact permission to download an archive of their photos, posts, and profile information they once shared on Facebook; however, the contact cannot alter any of this information, such as deleting their photos on Facebook. The legacy contact also cannot sign in to the user’s account or read any of the private messages on their account, this is to protect the user’s privacy even after he or she is deceased. 

Conversely, Facebook users also have the option of choosing to have their account deleted once they have passed away instead of naming a legacy contact. However, the user must sign on and choose this option or else Facebook will simply freeze the account. To select your legacy contact, go to Settings and click on Security and then Legacy Contact at the bottom of the page. Here, you can select your legacy contact and send them a message, grant them permission to download an archive of your data, or choose to have your account deleted. Another good thing to note is that if the user has legally designated a digital heir, Facebook will designate that person as the legacy contact.

Facebook is not the first to allow users to select their digital heirs. In 2013, Google became the first major company to offer its users the option of selecting its “Inactive Account Manager.” Google was the first to recognize the challenges survivors and relatives face in handling their loved one’s digital property, thus they created the Inactive Account Manager to make their life a little easier. Much like the legacy contact option, Google gives their users control over their data after they pass or become inactive for an extended period of time.

For now, Facebook and Google are the only major Internet companies empowering their users to make choices about their digital afterlife. And although Facebook owns Instagram, they do not have such an option, instead Instagram memorializes the accounts, while Twitter deactivates the account of a deceased individual. Facebook’s legacy contact option is currently only available in the United States; however, it will soon become available to users in other countries. 

ALG is staying well-informed of these and other Internet law and Intellectual Property law related matters to make sure we can properly counsel our clients. If you have any questions regarding this or any other Internet law or business law related matters, please contact Antoine Law Group, APC.

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