What happens to your Facebook profile when you die? [infographic]

What happens to your Facebook profile when you die? [infographic]

Three Facebook users die every minute. That’s 1.78m deceased Facebook accounts in 2011 alone. What happens to your Facebook account after you die? Is Facebook slowly turning into a digital graveyard?
It’s a strange question, and one that, perhaps, only raises more questions, not in the least: Who cares? I’m dead.

As you fill the internet with status updates, personal images and videos, it creates some new, somewhat macabre, digital dilemmas, such as:

– How do you protect your privacy after death?
– How do you maintain your digital legacy?
– Do you want to live forever online?

These are the questions that an Australian life insurance company is trying to get people to ask themselves before they pass into the great unknown.

The company, Life Insurance Finder, has published a guide on how to prepare your digital accounts for after you die, recommending, among other things, the creation of a digital will and the nomination of a digital executor.

In terms of a digital executor, the company suggests the following:

“A physical will covers your wishes for your physical self as well as your physical assets after your death. But what about your digital life? Now that we live almost as much online as we do in the physical world we need to have a plan for managing our digital deaths too. In order to carry out your digital death plan you will need to create a digital will, as well as select a trustworthy digital executor to handle arrangements for your digital assets and digital legacy once you are gone. Just remember not to put the passwords for your digital assets in your actual will as wills are made public at death.”

The company also has listed the death policies for the accounts of its users, including those of PayPal and eBay.

The guide is a fascinating read, especially the bit about “digital resurrections”:

Where do you see yourself in 100 years? We have the opportunity to be the first generation to realistically think about that question. How you are memorialised ‘After Your Final Status Update’ was the title and topic of Adam Ostrow’s presentation to the TED Global 2011 conference. The editor in chief of Mashable.com discussed the possibilities for the one billion of us around the world with social media profiles, as machine learning technology combined with the massive amounts of data we share publicly, makes it entirely possible that you could live digitally forever.

The guide explains how some companies, like That Can Be My Next Tweet and Hunch, can look into your past social networking history and use that data to post tweets or status updates in your personal style and tone, meaning you could essentially live forever online.

Death in Facebook, Facebook and Death - Part One

Death in Facebook, Facebook and Death – Part One

I was about to leave the house when Koby, a Facebook friend of both my brother Tal and mine, sent me a startled message:

Koby Shabaty: “Has someone hacked Tal’s Facebook profile?????”
Of course all other plans were forgotten and I hurried to Tal’s Timeline (his wall) on Facebook. I looked for any signs of vandalizing and found none, much to my relief. I asked Koby what it was that alarmed him.

Koby Shabaty: “I saw he Liked something… I was a bit shocked”.
Oh. That.

Fortunately, READWRITE, a technology blog, had a post titled Why Are Dead People Liking Stuff On Facebook which I bumped into not a week earlier, otherwise I have no idea how I’d have reacted to Koby’s screenshot:

Screenshot of a page being liked by my brother
Koby Shabaty: “Totally surreal, sadly there is no date indication”.
That does look like Tal Liked something after his death.

The Facebook spokesman has an explanation: Those are past Likes that Facebook recycles and posts again. Not unlike Readwrite in this post, I admit I find this explanation not entirely credible, or at least not the only explanation. This page, liked by Tal, was indeed created before Tal had died – had it been created after his death it would have been a solid proof – and I have no way of knowing for sure, but I suspect there’s a different reason.

Statistics claim that three Facebook users die every minute.

From a clip by ‘Life Insurance Finder’, an Australian company, produced 2012
Tzach Ben-Yehuda‏, a lawyer-sociologist whose thesis dealt with anonymity in the web, told me once: “You can’t sell ads to dead people’s profiles on Facebook”, but it’s probably possible to fake their Likes. I don’t know whether it’s a bug or a deliberate malicious act, but I suspect there’s something in Facebook drawing Likes out of profiles.

The next case shows it’s indeed a past Like that’s been brought back, and here’s the reaction of a woman who ran into it – a friend of the deceased:

The Facebook spokesman said that, had the profile been defined as a Memorial profile, this would not have happened; no past Like would be re-used.

Once a user died, there are three options:
A family member contacts Facebook and asks for the profile to be deleted (this is only allowed for family members);
Someone (anyone) reports to Facebook that the user has passed away, which will result in the profile changing to a Memorial profile (as far as Facebook is concerned, no personal relation to the deceased is required, nor should the user’s family be contacted or consulted with);
Nobody informs Facebook that the user no longer lives, and their profile goes on functioning as usual.
When choosing the latter option, Facebook is unaware of the user no longer being alive, and so treats them as usual – including suggesting the user as a friend for other users, or as a potential guest for their events – as happened to me, when Facebook suggested I invite two of my relatives to an event – and my deceased brother.
This hurts, but for me – and this is a personal preference and there are no rights or wrongs in this matter – this is a price worth paying for the profile not turning into a Memorial profile.

On January 2013 Huffington Post published an article titled Death On Facebook Now Common As ‘Death Profiles’ Create Vast Virtual Cemetery, introducing a person who was displeased by a deceased distant friend’s profile remaining untouched:
The comments to those photos contain correspondence between Rohan and Lalit, when the latter was still alive.

Aurora finds Facebook’s constant reminding him of his dead friend disturbing. This might have to do with him being young, or with the fact him and the deceased were not very close – but at any case, he feels uncomfortable with said distant friend’s profile not having become a Memorial profile. For others however, this Facebook presence of the deceased is far from disturbing; it is very welcome.

On April 27th, 2013, I was interviewed for a TV program in Channel 10. Healla Green, Alan Green’s wife, was interviewed to it as well. Her Facebook profile is named A.W – Alan’s Wife – and only after that does her own name appear, Healla Green. In the TV broadcast she tells how connected she felt to her husband’s profile after he had died, and how hard it was for her when Facebook changed it to a Memorial profile (it seems that for her the profile had simply vanished, but from her description I can guess that’s what happened to it). Facebook profiles aren’t deleted unless a family member requests them to be so, and even then it’s never immediate, as shown later in this post. However, since anyone can report anyone as dead – BuzzFeed have already proved this is hardly a challenge in this article, How Almost Anyone Can Take You Off Facebook (And Lock You Out) – I suspect this is what happened; someone was uncomfortable with Alan’s profile still giving the impression that Alan was alive, reported to Facebook of Alan’s death without discussing it with Alan’s wife first – and Healla, the wife, found herself locked out of her husband’s account, seeing as Facebook doesn’t require a family member’s permission to change a profile to Memorial. As Healla put it:
video

When a profile changes to a Memorial profile it can no longer be found through search engines, friends of friends can no longer view it – only those who are friends already – some of the content is deleted (the choice of what is removed and what remains is Facebook’s) and the account is no longer accessible, even if you have the password.

As explained and recommended in my technical guide, if you have access to the deceased’s Facebook account you should first backup its entire content, seeing as it can become a Memorial profile at any moment and you will no longer be allowed access to it. Following Healla’s case I also recommend to friend-request the deceased with your own Facebook account (open one if you don’t have one already) and approve it from theirs as long as you have access to it – and this way, at least, you will be able to view it even if it’s changed to a Memorial profile. Had Healla read the technical guide at the time, she might have not had to deal with this aspect of the pain, at least.

On April 2013 a Brazil judge ordered Facebook to remove, immediately, the profile of 24 years old deceased Juliana Ribeiro Campos, following her mother’s request. The mother says:

The mother had requested Facebook to remove the profile several times over a few months, and then took legal action.

As we can see, the deceased’s Facebook profile can be as much a source of great comfort as it can be distressing, and that the combination of Facebook and death has many varied aspects. I will review those in my next post in this series.

Managing your Digital Estate

Managing your Digital Estate

The digital age has seen an exponential rise in social media and internet usage and, with it, a whole range of digital assets.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that the total internet subscribers in Australia reached 12,358,000 at the end of June last year and 6.2 million Australians used mobile wireless broadband.

This indicates that a growing number of Australians are spending more time on their social media accounts, creating more personal material, with many having accrued thousands of dollars’ worth of digital possessions such as individually curated music, movies and e-books.

Digital Estate Blog
Digital Estate Blog
A Legal, Digital Legacy
How would you like your digital legacy to be addressed? Do you have any particular wishes – to memorialise the information, pass the assets onto family beneficiaries or, for privacy’s sake, have the accounts shut down? Bethanie Castell, a Wills and Estates lawyer with Adelaide firm Tindall Gask Bentley, offers these insightful recommendations for those who are unsure how to approach their digital estate.

The legal way to list your digital assets is by putting pen to paper. When drafting your Will, simply add a section for your digital assets and how you wish for them to be managed when you pass away.

Phrase your digital instructions as wishes, rather than legally binding directions, as, your executor will still be bound to the terms and conditions of the various online accounts.

Record all your passwords (work, banking, social media etc.) on separate document stored with your Will, so you won’t have to update your Will every time you change a password.

Lastly, appoint someone who’s technologically savvy as your Digital Executor.

“It may take time before we see Wills and Estates legislation specifically mentioning digital assets, but that doesn’t mean it is isn’t important to think about digital assets and provide for them while you can,” Castell said.

Your Family Future Checklist
So, when it comes to planning for your families future wellbeing in the years after you’ve departed, your estate planning checklist might look like this;

Make sure your own Will and Estate executor and beneficiaries are updated.
Clarify your Digital Estate, digital assets wish lists and your appointed digital executor.
Compile your digital assets purchased online, including music, movies and e-books.
And of course, keep your Lifebroker Life Insurance policy and beneficiaries up-to-date as well
Understandably, the concept of a Digital Estate can be quite confusing so talk to a legal Succession Planning expert. To discuss your Life Insurance and Beneficiaries options, talk to an expert consultant at Lifebroker today, so you can work towards the peace of mind that financial security can offer your family.

The information contained in this website has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or particular needs and is General Advice only. Lifebroker Pty Ltd (the authorising licensee AFSL 400209) or any related companies will not be held responsible for the merits of this advice to your circumstances.

Google Searching for Answers to Digital Legacy Problems

The digital legacy that a deceased person leaves behind has been a much-talked-about subject in the estates world in recent years.  See, for example, blogs on the subject by Moira VisoiuSaman Jaffery or Nadia Harasymowycz.  There’s a March Hull on Estates podcast about this, and another from July 2011.

While there have been some legislative and judicial developments in some jurisdictions (see Nebraska’s Bill 783 for an example), it has largely been left to private industry to resolve the problems created when a person passes away leaving a large digital footprint behind.

Fortunately, Google has stepped up to the plate and introduced a new policy to resolve this issue with respect to its services.  Google’s new Inactive Account Manager feature takes leaps forward towards resolving digital legacy issues.

Called a “digital will” by some media sources including the Toronto Star, the Inactive Account Manager allows users to manage what happens to their Google-related digital assets on death, or on prolonged account inactivity.  Users may set a period of time of inactivity (three, six, nine, or twelve months), after which Google will delete their data.  Before anything is deleted, Google will notify you by email or by text message to your cell phone.  If users would prefer that their data be preserved, there is an option to have some or all of it sent to trusted contacts.  The services to which the service applies include +1s, Blogger, Contacts and Circles, Drive, Gmail, Google+ Profiles, Pages and Streams, Picasa Web Albums, Google Voice, and Youtube.

This service is a clever and easy to use way to manage digital assets.  It does raise a number of questions, however.  How does this policy interact with legislation and case law about digital assets in jurisdictions that have these policies?  Will Facebook, or other online services follow suit and prepare similar policies?  Does an estate trustee under a will in Ontario have the authority (or the responsibility) to collect your digital assets from the person named on your Inactive Account Manager?

Perhaps the answers to these questions will become clear with time.  In the interim, it appears that we are left with a patchwork of policies created by different online service providers with different intentions and different philosophies.  Consider, for example, _LIVESON, a service that analyzes a user’s Twitter habits and generates automated tweets for him or her after death.  Control is placed in the hands of an “executor” who manages your _LIVESON “will”.  Although somewhat eerie, this is an interesting way to ensure that a person’s online presence not only persists after death, but continues to develop and grow.

If you are a Google user, it may be worth checking out the Inactive Account Manager and configuring your settings.  The photos, blogs, friends and videos left behind on a user’s death may mean a lot to grieving loved ones.

When updating an estate plan, digital assets are an important aspect to consider.  Lawyers should be cognizant of the issues surrounding digital legacies, and should discuss them with their clients.  People planning their wills should think about the intangibles they leave behind as well.  And if you aren’t sure where to find this information, try Google.