It used to be that the most complicated thing about dying was thinking about what to put on your epitaph, and then taking care of all the paperwork. Now, in addition to all this, you have to worry about your Identity 2.0. What happens with your Facebook and Twitter profiles and passwords after users pass away? In recent years, with the development of Social Media, people now leave a legacy of digital messages, photographs, videos, and other intellectual property that can stay forever on the cloud, or, on the contrary, die along with them.
Legally, accounts from social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, content publishing platforms such as Blogger and Tumblr, or email services such as Gmail, cannot be transferred to other people. Companies are lawfully obligated to protect the privacy of their users, even after death, so they won’t make available the passwords of those who have passed unless they gave their prior consent, or if a judge rules that they have to.
In many countries there is legislation that keeps even inheritors from being able to take over the profile of someone who has passed, and access all their private content, although there are increasingly more cases in which family and friends request access to their late friends and family, in search for comfort and answers. The alternatives that social media offer are either turn the profile into a commemorative account, or completely shut it down, as long as the death certificate or obituary is presented.
Facebook, with 750 million users worldwide, claims that each year around 200,000 users of the social network die each year. If family members decide to convert the profile into a memorialized account, the page will no longer appear in the news feed and recommendations, and their membership in groups will be cancelled, and their personal contact information will be removed. The memorial will be completely private – only friends of the user will be able to view their photos, and leave comments as a tribute – and will exclude those who hadn’t been added while the user was alive, or those who the user had previously unfriended.
In regards to Twitter, a memorialized account can be set up, but just like Facebook, only users that followed the person when he/she was alive will have have access because the “Follow” option will be removed from the account. Close family will also be able to request a file with all the tweets from the deceased, except for direct messages.
On the other hand, email services such as Gmail usually delete accounts that haven’t been active for nine months, but if you need to access the content from the account of a deceased family member, the instant messaging system will provide access in rare cases to an authorized representative of the user if they can prove that they have received emails from that account previously, but under no circumstances will emails be sent or received from said account. Despite this, Google reserves the right to deny the petition.
It is different, however, when it deals with content that has value in itself, and that the deceased had stored online, such as text documents or professional photographs that hadn’t been published on the Internet. In these cases, inheritors will have the right to the property unless the author had given them a Creative Commons license or something similar.
The only way to ensure that your Identity 2.0 property is given to the right consignee is to make a will regarding your virtual life, or have companies such as Secursafe manage your digital legacy. This will allow you to select whom to give access to your Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr and Tumblr pictures, among other accounts.
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