Facebook will let its users decide what to do with its account when they die.
The new feature — a marked break in how the site deals with the accounts of those who have passed away — will allow users to appoint a “Facebook heir” who will look after the account and will be allowed to make certain changes. They will also be able to choose to have their account deleted entirely.
The heirs will be able to pin posts, respond to new friend requests and update profile pictures. But they will be restricted from other changes, including creating new posts or deleting photos.
Before, Facebook opted just to freeze members’ accounts when it learned that they had died. That meant that the page’s stayed online, but couldn’t be changed. If users don’t opt to leave a digital will, the company will freeze the profile in a process called “memorialization”, leaving everything with the privacy settings that were left when users died.
The new feature is thought to be a response to family’s wishes to use Facebook profiles to remember their owners.
The option will be rolled out to users in the US on Thursday, with it expanding to different places after that.
Users will choose the heirs in Facebook’s security settings. Only one user can be chosen.
If users don’t choose a Facebook heir but name a digital heir in a normal will, Facebook will honour that choice.
It is an attempt to walk the line between protecting the privacy of the people who own profiles, and allowing grieving friends and families to access the site, as the Wall Street Journal notes. That is a balance that many other internet companies have to tread as they decide how to deal with the accounts and data of those users that have died.
Google introduced a similar system of “digital heirs” in 2013, allowing users to decide what will happen with users’ data after they pass away or become inactive for some time.
“We hope that this new feature will enable you to plan your digital afterlife–in a way that protects your privacy and security — and make life easier for your loved ones after you’re gone,” wrote Google product manager Andreas Tuerk in a blog post at the time.