A GHOST tour in Edinburgh was where I first discovered the morbid truth about why Victorian headstones often had bells attached.
Buried by mistake? Ring urgently for service.
We’ve come a long way since then, and thanks to modern medicine can be certain when someone’s been ‘called home’ before doing the needful.
If you’re squirming a bit in your seat at the thought, it’s natural. The D word is nobody’s favourite and talking about it is the biggest slap in the face to any healthy dose of self-denial about what’s at the ‘end of the line’.
Anyway, let’s say you are doing a bit of planning and you’ve sorted out what to wear, who to invite and all that, then as a child of the Digital Age you must also put on your ‘to do’ list who can access your social media accounts and other digital assets when you’re gone.
Apparently it’s a bit of a grey area in legal circles and they want to do something about it.
At the helm is the NSW Law Reform Commission which his reviewing laws affecting life beyond your digital death.
Initially they’ve called for submissions from the legal profession and later in the year the public can throw in their two cents worth (and for those born after 1992, when the two-cent coin was demonetised, it means your opinion).
When making the review public, Attorney General Mark Speakman said: “In today’s hyper-connected world, an unprecedented amount of work and socialising occurs online, yet few of us consider what happens to our digital assets once we’re gone or are no longer able to make decisions.
“This is leading to confusion and complexity as family, friends and lawyers are left to untangle digital asset ownership issues, applying laws that were developed long before the arrival of email, blogs, social media and cryptocurrency.”
What the LRC is more worried about is who can access your digital stuff, but although it’s inappropriate to laugh at a time like this, this quote from Speakman was just a little bit ironic.
He said: “When a loved one passes away, bureaucratic hurdles and legal uncertainty are the last thing families and friends feel like confronting, so we need clear and fair laws to deal with these 21st Century problems.”
Bureaucratic hurdles and legal uncertainty are what families and friends are confronted with when a loved one passes away.
I suppose we’ve really only got ourselves to blame, being the most connected of all countries in the world. So, the review will focus on NSW, Commonwealth and international laws, including those relating to intellectual property, privacy, contract, crime, estate administration, wills, succession and assisted-decision making.
The LRC will scrutinise (their words, sounds expensive) the policies and terms of service agreements of social media companies and other digital service providers.
Facebook is at a bit of an advantage here already, having had lots of experience in this area.
On a more serious note, social media companies do handle sites of the deceased differently, from memorialising them to simply shutting them down.
Having a say in what you’d like to happen, particularly given there can be a story of a whole life recorded there, is important.
If you haven’t made arrangements for anyone to take control of your sites or access private emails, the LRC is considering whether additional privacy protections are needed.
The issue of ownership of digital assets upon death cuts across many different areas of law which is why it’s not clear and fair but complicated.
Here I was thinking I’d just leave a list of my 70,000 passwords for someone else to troll through my social media, blogs and websites if they could actually be bothered.
But really, who could forgo the opportunity to plan ahead by scheduling posts and memes to appear long after I’m gone, saying things like ‘I can see what you’re doing’ or ‘There is no Planet-B’.
Every day, it seems, our lives become a bit less tangible. We’ve grown accustomed to photos, music and movies as things that exist only in digital form. But death? Strange as it sounds, the human corpse could be the next physical object to vanish from our lives.
Within a couple of decades, visiting deceased friends and relatives by traveling to a grassy gravesite may seem as quaint as popping a videotape into your VHS player. By then, our whole experience of death may be drastically different.
“We’re going to become increasingly non-biological, to the point where the biological part isn’t that important anymore,” Kurzweil declared in 2013 at a conference predicting the world of 2045. “Even if the biological part went away, it wouldn’t make any difference.”
But you don’t need to take such speculative leaps to see that the way we deal with death is already in the midst of a wrenching transformation. In 2015, for the first time ever, more people in the U.S. were cremated than buried, according to the National Funeral Director’s Association.
Crowded urban cemeteries, along with a new eco-friendly cremation method known as alkaline hydrolysis, promise to continue the trend. By 2030, the association predicts, less than one-quarter of the dead will receive traditional casket burials. The rest will end up…well, that’s the question.
Avoiding death obsolescence
With the changes in how we handle the departed come changes in how we remember them.
In the futuristic Ruriden memorial in Tokyo, human remains are packed behind walls of glowing Buddha statues. When visitors swipe a key card, a wash of colorful LED lights illuminate the location of their dearly departed.
Elsewhere, funeral companies are promoting tombstones embossed with QR codes. Scanning them on your phone will call up a related video or web page. That approach prompts awkward giggles from Megan Rosenbloom, a leader in the death-acceptance movement and founder of a series of associated events that she calls Death Salons.
“Do you have a QR code reader on your phone?” she asks. “A century from now, will anyone even have any idea what that is?”
That’s a key issue for death in the digital age: Software goes out of date quickly, but memorials are meant to last forever. Today even keeping track of who is here and who is gone is a challenge. At some point you’ve probably had the unnerving experience of receiving a Facebook reminder to celebrate a birthday of a friend who is no longer alive.
A different kind of second life
Entrepreneurs are rushing in to solve this problem of “digital death curation.”
A site called the Digital Beyond maintains a list of dozens of companies that handle everything from closing out social media accounts and maintaining permanent cloud-based obituaries to creating interactive online memorials. Many of them allow you to post posthumous text and videos, or even to send scheduled messages to your loved ones long after you’re gone.
If the concept sounds creepy, it may be that you haven’t adapted yet to the fast-changing culture. “I think it’s all positive,” Rosenbloom says. “I don’t want to take up permanent real estate in a cemetery, but I do want to be remembered. Physical, virtual: the more the merrier.”
There’s an old joke that on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog. An updated version of that might be that on the internet, no one knows you’re dead. Chatbots — computer programs that emulate a person’s conversational style — could keep your digital self talking long after your physical self has stopped breathing.
A Russian startup called Luka has created a chatbot that simulates conversations with Prince. It can take on many other guises as well. Luka’s co-founder, Eugenia Kuyda, programmed a bot to mimic a close friend who died in 2015.
Taking the idea a step further, computer scientist Hossein Rahnama of the MIT Media Lab is developing what he calls “augmented eternity.” It would mine all the information about a dead person to create a detailed virtual presence. His nominal goal is to simulate famous historical figures as an educational tool, but the same approach could be applied to any person.
Brain in the cloud
Rahnama’s big-data approach to artificial intelligence parallels the way that researchers at IBM taught their Watson artificial intelligence platform how to think like a person. Six years ago, Watson famously defeated Ken Jennings to become the first machine Jeopardy champion, in large part by assimilating complex cultural knowledge.
Kurzweil thinks we’ll follow a similar path to the Singularity, the hypothetical time (around 2029, by his estimate) when the great blurring between humans and computers will occur. If he’s right, questions about what to do with the body at death will then become largely irrelevant.
“We can create bodies with nanotechnology, we can create virtual bodies in virtual reality,” Kurzweil says. “I think we’ll have a choice of bodies; we’ll certainly be routinely changing our parent body in virtual reality.”
Many scoff at Kurzweil’s vision, questioning not only its technological feasibility but also its philosophical desirability. Fantasizing about immortality keeps people from living their best lives right now, Rosenbloom argues. “It feeds into death denial. When there’s no longer a deadline on your life, it takes away a lot of the motivations that we have in our life.”
Like it or not, some forms of digital afterlife are here already, and more elaborate ones are on the way. Just as today’s kids have never laid hands on a VHS cassette, so they may soon find it strange that anyone ever traveled to a distant graveyard rather than activating a virtual memorial experience they can call up anywhere, anytime.
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Euronews provides articles from NBC News as a service to its readers, but does not edit the articles it publishes.
I don’t think I’ve seen a revival like this since Mary Lambert’s Stephen King adaptation.
Bandai America began online preorder sales for new, smaller version of its 1997 Tamagotchi on Tuesday to mark the digital pet’s 20th anniversary.
“Like the original Tamagotchi device, the mini Tamagotchi includes six different shell designs from the initial Japanese launch and each one includes six characters,” the Tamagotchi Friends website states. “To pay homage to fans, the mini Tamagotchi will also feature the iconic packaging design of the original Tamagotchi device. Now, both original fans and new fans can obsess over caring for their Tamagotchi character, and as they do the character will uniquely grow and develop.”
Love them or hate them, folks about my age (and maybe a tad bit older) still remember the craze for the keychain-sized, egg-shaped digital pet that taught kids that the key points to animal care involve feeding, attention and cleaning up poop. And the consequences of neglect involve tiny, heart-wrenching digital death.
In fact, I still remember hearing about the physical fights that broke out during holiday shopping when parents insisted they needed one of a certain color. According to Tamagotchi Friends, since its 1997 release, more than 82 million units have been sold worldwide.
But is this a piece of nostalgia that still appeals to my generation? I’m thinking no.
Since 1997 there have been a vast number of new digital trends that have been made for us to “obsess” over, let alone nurture. Let us not forget what “FarmVille” did to our friends, family and loved ones.
I also have a lot less leisure time now than I did then. There’s a difference between getting called out by an elementary school teacher for playing with toys in class and your boss calling you out at work.
And personally I now have my own real, living pets to care for.
But maybe some newer parents are thinking about passing this “obsession” onto their own kids. I’m not against it, but there are so many other options out there.
Then again, I could just be bias. I never had a Tamagotchi growing up. I had a Nano Pet. A puppy, whom I lovingly called Steve.
The Tamagotchi reboot will be sold individually and at limited quantity beginning Nov. 5 for the suggested retail price of $14.99.
Catherine Wong is a Eureka resident and an avid fan of Blizzard, Bethesda and Square Enix games. She is the night editor of the Times-Standard and can be reached at 707-441-0503.
When a loved one passes away, dealing with the mundane little things is an unfortunate, and often headache-inducing, necessity. Canceling a deceased loved one’s bills and magazine subscriptions, dealing with their financial situations… And now you have to worry about your loved one’s digital affairs as well. You have to account for everything from their email inboxes to their Facebook account, and the data they left behind. What do you do with it all?
There aren’t many clear or easy ways for people to transfer their digital assets after they’ve passed on. This includes things like their iTunes media library, or even just the credentials needed to access the departed’s various online accounts. Some people have started to wonder if they should include things like passwords to their multitudes of online accounts in their wills.
It can be difficult to successfully petition the likes of Google or Apple to release information on users who have passed away. This is often true regardless of your relation to the deceased. And social media platforms keep a tight leash on their users’ login credentials, even after they’ve passed on.
Accessing Data From a Deceased Loved One’s Electronic Devices
On occasion, we here at Gillware receive calls from people looking to have data retrieved from a phone or tablet belonging to a deceased loved one. Usually all they’re looking for are photos and contacts belonging to the deceased—photos to remember them by, and friends to notify of their passing. Sometimes this data is very difficult to get a hold of outside of a data recovery lab. This is especially true when dealing with mobile devices.
When you die, all of your data stays right where you left it. Making sure your loved ones can access the data you leave behind isn’t something many of us plan for. This can leave your loved ones in a bind when you pass away and they have to deal with your affairs—both analog and digital. The trend in data storage, especially among mobile devices, is encryption and total data security. If you don’t plan ahead, accessing the data you’ve left behind on your phone or synced with your Apple or Google account can prove difficult, or even nigh-impossible, for your loved ones.
Below are some tips for retrieving data from mobile devices and computers after their users have passed on. If you cannot retrieve the data on your own or with help from Apple or Google, though, the experts at Gillware Data Recovery and Gillware Digital Forensics can help. Our data recovery and forensic engineers have often assisted people in retrieving data from phones, computers, and other mobile devices belonging to deceased loved ones. In these situations, the data we recover often helps bring much-needed closure to the deceased person’s grieving family and friends.
Accessing a Deceased Loved One’s iPhone
Apple iPhones are, unfortunately, notoriously difficult to access in the event of their owners’ passing. Unlike many Android phone models, iPhones do not have (often unencrypted) microSD cards you can take out of the phone. All of the data resides within the encrypted flash memory chip built into the device. You can’t pick the lock or bust down the door, metaphorically speaking. Either you know the passcode that gives you access to the data on the phone, or you don’t. Your iPhone does not send your passcode directly to some giant password database at Apple HQ. Only the user—and anybody else they may have told—knows their own iPhone passcode.
Apple’s data protection policies, especially their encryption policies, are a harsh mistress. You cannot appeal to an iPhone’s reason or emotion, because it has none. Apple iPhones are designed to be virtually unhackable without taking the most extreme of measures. Each successive model is more unhackable than the last. That’s just the way these things are—and even appealing to Tim Cook can’t change that.
However, while Apple can’t help you access your loved one’s iPhone after they’ve passed on, their Apple ID, iTunes, and iCloud accounts present a much less insurmountable goal. These accounts often hold data that is synchronized between the owner’s iPhone, iPad, and other devices. Access to these accounts is often easier to gain than access to the iPhone itself.
To gain access to a deceased loved one’s Apple ID, iTunes, or iCloud account information, you can contact Apple Support. Apple Support will ask for identifying information, such as a death certificate of the user, and proof of relation. Apple Support does, of course, often err on the side of caution when it comes to releasing information on another user’s account.
Accessing a Deceased Loved One’s Android Mobile Phone
Many Android mobile phones also store some of the user’s data on a small microSD card inside the phone. You can easily remove the microSD card, place it into an adapter, and plug it into a computer, even if you can’t access the phone it belonged to. Not all mobile phones come with a microSD card preinstalled, however. In addition, how much data the user had on the SD card depends on how the user had their phone set up.
Owners of Android phones often have their phones tied to a Google account. In these cases, some data on the phone, such as contacts or photos, may be synchronized with the user’s Google Drive. Like with Apple, you can contact Google to access your loved one’s account. In the interest of protecting user privacy, Google asks for plenty of identifying information about both you and your loved one before they decide whether to comply with your request.
Some of the information Google requires includes your name, mailing address, email address, the Google account username or Gmail address of your loved one, their death certificate, and an example of an email conversation between you and the deceased.
Requesting data from a loved one’s Google account is a two-part system. Google will review your request and may request a court order before moving onto the second step.
Accessing a Deceased Loved One’s Home Computer
Unlike with mobile phones, getting into your loved one’s computer to recover the files and documents they left behind proves much less of a challenge. Even if you don’t know the password to their user account, accessing the data on a computer is downright trivial. You can access their files from another account on the PC. Or, if you don’t have one, you can remove the hard drive from the PC and view the data on it on another computer using a hard disk drive enclosure or USB adapter cable. These methods all work, unless the data on the drive has been encrypted. When you encrypt data, it is impossible to make sense of it without the proper password to unlock the data (of course, if encryption were easy to circumvent, there wouldn’t be much point in having it).
This covers most of the data a deceased loved one will have lying on their physical devices once they pass on. But what about everything they’ve left behind on the Internet? What happens to it? Can you get to it?
What Happens to Your Social Media Accounts After Death?
The people using social media to stay abreast of current events, share things that are happening in their lives, and keep in touch with their families and friends number in the billions. Between Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, and various other platforms, people are accruing social media presences at an accelerating rate. When a user stops using an account, it just stays there. After all, your social media account won’t know when you’re dead. It can be unsettling, to say the least, to know that a family member or friend’s social media accounts are floating around through cyberspace as if nothing has changed.
All social media platforms highly value the privacy of their users, even their deceased users. As seen above with Google and Apple, the platforms holding onto your data, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., are reticent to release it to just anybody. (And in this case, family and friends count as “just anybody”.)
In general, social media platforms have no interest in providing other people with the proverbial keys to the kingdom, even after a user has passed on. However, social media platforms do have protocol in place regarding deceased users and what can be done to their accounts. Their protocol tends to be stringent, as many platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, have fallen victim to celebrity death hoaxes in the past.
Some social media platforms have policies in place allowing people who were close to a deceased user to make limited decisions about what happens to their account after they have passed on. These include things like Facebook and Instagram’s memorial accounts. For the most part, though, social media platforms simply lock or deactivate the deceased user’s account.
Setting Up a Facebook Memorial Account
Facebook’s policy regarding deceased users allows for deceased users’ accounts to be transformed into “memorial accounts.” The deceased user is not treated as an “active” user and does not appear on potential friends lists for other users and other public spaces, although anything the user shared remains in place. Friends and family of the deceased user can post on the wall of the deceased and share memories of them.
Nobody can log into the deceased user’s account or alter any information on their account. However, if the user had defined a legacy contact prior to their passing, the legacy contact is allowed limited access to moderate the memorial account, and can request to download a copy of the account. However, they will not have access to the user’s private messages or be able to add or remove friends.
Only the user themselves can designate a legacy contact. In your Facebook account settings, you can choose a legacy contact, arrange to have your account memorialized after your death, or request to have your account deleted after you pass on.
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, has a similar policy, with memorial accounts of its own for deceased users. However, unlike Facebook, users cannot arrange to have their account memorialized before they pass on. Instead, a relative of the deceased user must contact Instagram and provide a copy of the user’s death certificate.
Deactivating a Deceased User’s Twitter Account
Unlike Facebook, Twitter has no options for “memorializing” deceased users’ accounts. But like Facebook, Twitter refuses to share login credentials for a deceased user’s account, so nobody can post on their behalf or read through their direct messages. Twitter will deactivate the account, which puts it in a queue for permanent deletion.
If you have login credentials to the deceased user’s account, you can simply deactivate their account just as easily as you would your own. If you do not know their credentials, though, you must go through Twitter Support. To request the deactivation of a deceased user’s account, you must fill out Twitter Support’s Privacy Form. To prevent abuse of this feature, Twitter requires you to provide information about yourself and the user. This includes a copy of their ID and your ID, and may include a Power of Attorney authorizing you to act on their behalf. If you meet these criteria, Twitter will honor your request to deactivate the deceased user’s account.
Removing LinkedIn Profiles for Deceased Users
Like any online account, nothing automatically happens to your LinkedIn account when you die. This can make it distressing for your loved ones, coworkers, or classmates if, after your death, LinkedIn serves up your profile to them in a “People You Might Want to Link To” email.
LinkedIn Help requires a friend or relative of the deceased to go through a rather involved process to close a LinkedIn profile for a deceased user. LinkedIn allows anybody to submit the form to remove the profile of a user who has passed on. However, since LinkedIn asks for you to state your relationship to the deceased, they will likely deny any request made by someone who is not close to the deceased.
Deactivating a Deceased Google User’s Account
You can request to have a deceased loved one’s Google account, including their Google+ page, Google Drive, Gmail inbox, and YouTube account, deleted by contacting Google Support. You will have to go through many of the same steps as you would when trying to access data stored on a loved one’s Google account as we discussed earlier. Google is more likely to honor a request to simply deactivate a deceased user’s account altogether than to release data from or provide access to the account. Understandably, deactivating a deceased user’s account is less of a breach of privacy than sharing their data.
Planning for the Future: Keeping Your Data Manageable and Accessible After Death
Losing a loved one is painful enough. We wish that dealing with the myriad things left behind in their absence were easier. Almost nobody likes thinking about mortality. Even fewer people relish the thought of dealing with everything their deceased loved one left behind.
You can ensure that dealing with your digital affairs when you pass on doesn’t put your loved ones through unnecessary layers of bureaucracy by creating a digital estate plan.
Estate planning is an important part of making sure everything goes smoothly after you’ve shed your mortal coil. Estate planning includes writing up a Last Will and Testament, financial or health care Power of Attorney, and other documents. In the modern age, what to do with all your digital remains has to be taken into consideration as well.
A digital estate plan is, as its name suggests, a plan for your digital estate—the online data and digital documentation and belongings you’ve accumulated over the years. Your digital estate encompasses everything from digital financial records to your online accounts. Keeping your digital accounts accessible after death is part of having a good digital estate plan.
Creating a Digital Estate Plan
A digital estate plan will help your family deal with whatever you leave behind when you pass on. This includes accessing and appropriately managing your online accounts, determining whether any of your digital property has any financial value that needs to be reported, and distributing and transferring any digital assets. A digital estate plan can even keep you and your family safe from “ghosting”, or identity theft of deceased persons.
Planning your digital estate involves tallying up all of your digital records and online accounts. This includes all of your data storage hardware in addition to your online accounts. Once you’ve made a list of your digital assets, you decide what should be done with each, just as you would with your physical assets.
However, while Wisconsin has laws in place regarding “digital asset custodians”, not all states have legislation regarding digital estate planning. And as a result, your digital executor may not be legally recognized. Despite the legal limbo, though, appointing a digital executor can still make dealing with your estate much easier. A digital estate plan is still of great use, even if you cannot formalize it in a legally binding document.
Using Password Management Tools to Manage Your Digital Estate
We here at Gillware recommend that you store your passwords in a safe, secure place. Common choices are a locked file cabinet or a safe or safety deposit box. Only your trusted loved ones should be able to access it in the event of your death. The easiest and most convenient way to do this is with a password manager, such as KeePass.
With KeePass, you can store a digital record of all your online and device passwords in a database file. This includes anything from email, social media accounts, and streaming and data storage accounts to your smartphone’s passcode. With your password credentials in hand, your loved ones can easily deal with the digital cruft that built up over the course of your life.
Of course, this allows your loved ones to see all of the data on your accounts. You may want to exercise prudence in what login credentials you make available to your heirs.
There are many options for you to choose from to make your password database file accessible only to the right people. To make sure your loved ones can get to the file itself, leave the database on a flash drive or burn it to a CD. The next step is ensuring that only the right people have the master password to unlock the database.
Whatever you do, proactively planning your digital estate can make things much easier on your loved ones once you’ve moved on.
Keep in mind that we here at Gillware are data recovery and IT experts, not probate law experts. To plan your digital estate, discuss the matter with your estate lawyer, just as you would to plan your physical estate.
In the days after my husband died, I kept sending him text messages. His cell phone lay uncharged on my nightstand, just a few feet away from me, and I knew no one would ever read the words I wrote, but I kept writing anyway. I needed to feel like I was still connected to him. As I sat in bed texting, I knew that my phone also held recent photos of Phil smiling with our daughters and a video of him laughing with his brother just two days before I took him to the hospital, but I didn’t look at those. It would have hurt too much. Instead, I just kept writing to him, pretending he was on the other side of the messages I was sending and would soon write back.
When we lose someone we love, we often feel a desperate need to connect to them in whatever way we can. In moments like that, our phones, the internet and social media can sometimes be a refuge. We can talk to our loved ones, as I did, or when we’re ready to face the memories, we can lose ourselves in old emails, photos, videos and posts. With an ease that wasn’t possible 20 years ago, we can now hear and see our loved ones after they are gone, and we can share those memories with others who are grieving.
But other times, the online world can make loss even more painful. The reminders of our loved ones are everywhere, and with each reminder a renewed realization of their death. For months after Phil died, I’d cry when I’d receive an Amazon email prompting him to order his regular shipment of secondhand detective novels, or a message from his pharmacy cheerfully reminding him that his chemotherapy was ready for pickup. Even now, I pause whenever I log into Facebook and see a post of mine resurfaced from years ago. I worry it will be one of the many I shared with friends over the course of Phil’s battle with cancer, detailing his progress and hinting at our naïve faith that he would continue to beat the odds.
Depending on the circumstances of a person’s death, those online reminders can be overwhelming. A mother who loses her daughter to domestic violence may feel sick when she looks online and sees photos of her daughter’s wedding day. A university student who receives a birthday reminder for a roommate who died by suicide might feel grief more acutely thinking of all the expressions of love and support his roommate would be receiving if he were around.
Our Approach at Facebook
When people come to Facebook after suffering a loss, we want them to feel comfort, not pain, which is why we stop sending birthday reminders once we know someone has passed away, and why we try to make it easy for surviving family members to reach us.
All too often, however, it’s difficult for us to know what action to take with the account of someone who has died. What should we do with an account of a deceased young woman, for instance, when one of her parents wants to delete the account but the other wants to preserve it as a memorial for friends and family? How do we know what the daughter would have wanted? And what should we do if they want to see the private messages between the daughter and her friends – friends who are still alive and don’t want their messages to become public?
These questions — how to weigh survivors’ competing interests, determine the wishes of the deceased, and protect the privacy of third parties – have been some of the toughest we’ve confronted, and we still don’t have all the answers. Laws may provide clarity, but often they do not. In many countries, the legal framework for transferring assets to surviving family members does not account for digital assets like social media or email accounts. We are, however, doing our part to try and make these situations easier for everyone.
Respect the Wishes of the Deceased
Where the law permits, we try to respect the wishes of those who have passed away. Sometimes, however, we simply don’t know what the person would have wanted. If a bereaved spouse asks us to add her as a friend to her late husband’s profile so she can see his photos and posts, how do we know if that’s what her husband would have wanted? Is there a reason they were not previously Facebook friends? Does it mean something if she had sent him a friend request when he was alive and he had rejected it? What if the wife had simply never been on Facebook until after her husband’s death?
If we don’t know what the deceased person would have wanted, we try to leave the account exactly as that person left it. When we learn that someone has passed away, our standard process is to add “Remembering” above the name on the person’s profile, to make clear that the account is now a memorial site, and to stop any new attempts to log into the account. Once we’ve memorialized an account, anything on the profile remains on Facebook and is visible to the people who could already see it before the profile was memorialized. We don’t remove or change anything. This is our way of respecting the choices someone made while alive.
Memorialization is our default action, but we know that some people might not want their account preserved this way. They might prefer that we delete their profile. Recognizing this, we give people a way to let us know they want their account permanently deleted when they die. We may also delete profiles when the next of kin tells us that the deceased loved one would have preferred that we delete the account rather than memorialize it.
Other people might want a friend or family member to be able to manage their profile as a memorial site after their death. That’s why in 2015, we created the option for people to choose a legacy contact. A legacy contact is a family member or friend who can manage certain features on your account if you pass away, such as changing your profile picture, accepting friend requests or adding a pinned post to the top of your profile. They can also elect to delete your account. You can give your legacy contact permission to download an archive of the photos, posts and profile information you shared on Facebook, but they won’t be able to log in as you or see your private messages. Find out more about legacy contacts and how to add one to your account in our Help Center.
Protect the Privacy of Survivors
Even where the laws are clear and the intent of the deceased person is clear, we sometimes have other interests to consider. For instance, if a father loses a teenaged son to suicide, the father might want to read the private messages of his son to understand what was happening in his son’s life. Had he been struggling in his university classes? Was he having problems with his boyfriend? As natural as it might seem to provide those messages to the father, we also have to consider that the people who exchanged messages with the son likely expected those messages would remain private.
Although cases like this are heartbreaking, we generally can’t turn over private messages on Facebook without affecting other people’s privacy. In a private conversation between two people, we assume that both people intended the messages to remain private. And even where it feels right to turn over private messages to family members, laws may prevent us from doing so. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act and Stored Communications Act, for instance, prevent us from relying upon family consent to disclose the contents of a person’s communications.
We’re Still Learning
Despite our efforts to respect the wishes of those who pass away and those who survive them, we still encounter difficult situations where we end up disappointing people.
And even when we know perfectly and can act consistently with the wishes of the deceased and their loved ones, we know our actions will be of limited comfort. As I’m learning from my own experience, grief doesn’t recede quickly or quietly. Nearly a year after Phil died, I still catch my breath when I look through old photos on my phone. Some of those photos, like the ones I took of Phil in the hospital when I mistakenly thought we’d be going home the next day, move me to tears.
But others, like the one of him standing proudly in our backyard with our daughters on Father’s Day, are starting to make me smile again. Those flashes of happiness, however brief, prove to me that reminders of our loved ones don’t have to be reminders of loss. And that, in turn, gives me hope that social media and the rest of our online world, rather than provoking pain, can ultimately ease our grief.