Emails, photos, random postings… We all have a digital footprint and depending on your privacy settings, it’s available to many people including strangers. Not to mention our passwords to accounts, and other digital assets, including financial ones. Who can access them when we pass on? What happens to the data?
In the world of Internet services, digital legacies and the policies around them have been murky at best.
Because of our position as a leading provider of security for data, devices and people this is an issue we at AVG have long been concerned about. And that’s why we’ve been focused on educating our users on this sensitive topic and advocating for people to provide a digital codicil to their wills, specifying a digital executor to act on their behalf. (You can see our most recent article here. We also published an ebook dealing with digital death.
Today, different sites have different policies, and requirements vary on the actions that can be taken, and the forms of identification and proof that are required in case of a user’s death. Twitter has a policy to deactivate accounts after six months of prolonged inactivity, but also will work with authorized individuals to delete a deceased user’s account and or certain imagery. Until last week, Facebook’s policy was to allow users to specify if they wanted to “memorialize” or permanently delete their accounts. Last Thursday, Facebook moved to a step further to allow account holders to appoint what it calls a “Legacy Contact” to manage their memorialized accounts.
You can read the full announcement here that Facebook released Feb. 12.
But briefly: Facebook now allows the appointee to write a post for your profile, and update your profile picture and cover photo. It also allows the appointee to respond to new friend requests, for example a friend who hadn’t been on Facebook at the time of the user’s death. The Facebook executor, however, can’t go back and delete material, log into the account or remove any of your friends.
In its statement, Facebook said: “By talking to people who have experienced loss, we realized there is more we can do to support those who are grieving and those who want a say in what happens to their account after death.”
The Facebook move is good news, in many ways, not the least of which is that it helps bring this important issue of Digital Legacy to the forefront in one of the largest social venues, where many of us are living our digital lives. It also recognizes that users need more control of their accounts, including deciding how they want them managed when they pass.
Digital legacy is something that everyone online needs to consider. No one wants to consider their own death, but as the physical world morphs into the digital, it’s a very important part of our legacies. One we shouldn’t ignore.
February 19, 2015