Have you ever thought about what would happen to all your online accounts when you pass away? There are actually a number of different laws and policies in place about this, but few people are aware of them. Yet, it is important to know what the rules are, particularly if you wanted to access the account of a relative who has died.
Almost all of our data is now online, so it is important to think about what should happen with it. After all, you probably also have wishes about what will happen to your physical belongings in your passing. Nobody really wants to think about death, but it is important to have your affairs in order. We are mortal, after all, and the data we store online is our property and must therefore be given to someone when we die.
Some of this online property have sentimental value. Think about your stored photographs, for instance, and old emails, as well as all the things you posted on social media. And there is also online property that has a financial value. For instance, your online banking accounts, your resumes and more are all online as well.
Apple’s Response to a Widow’s Request
Not too long ago, a report surfaced that Apple refused to give a widow the password for her deceased husband’s account.
I thought it was ridiculous. I could get the pensions, I could get benefits, I could get all kinds of things from the federal government and the other government. But from Apple, I couldn’t even get a silly password. It’s nonsense.
The widow only wanted the passwords so that she could continue to use the iPad that she shared with her husband. Apple may have seemed too strict on the refusal to provide her with the details, but they were actually following policies. So, is sharing your details with your loved ones in case you die the answer to this problem? Or is there a better alternative?
Whatever the solution is, you probably don’t want your online data to vanish. You may also want to deactivate or disable an account after you die. This would stop people from posting information in your name. Unfortunately, succession laws are very vague when it comes to online property, mainly because it is such a new area of law. At present, the reality is that, unless you have purposefully shared your passwords, your beneficiaries will not be able to inherit your online data. In that case, the question is what will happen to it.
Facebook is one of the few online platforms that have taken serious interest in this issue. As such, they now have an established policy that says the will executor is allowed to have an account either memorialized or shut down completely. However, the information will always be retained by Facebook. Additionally, people can only see the information that they were able see when the holder of the account was alive. In this country, they are also piloting a feature that enables users to choose what should happen to their account if they were to die. This is known as the Legacy Contact feature.
Go to your Security setting and scroll down to Legacy Contact. You’ll have the option to add a contact from your friends’ list, and let them know you’re doing so either now or when you die.
At present, the only two real options that Facebook offers are the ‘memorialized’ feature and deleting the account. Facebook has offered a short explanation on what memorializing means.
In the memorialized state, sensitive information such as status updates and contact information is removed from the profile, while privacy settings on the account are changed so that only confirmed, existing friends can see the profile or locate it in Facebook’s internal search engine. The wall remains so friends and family, who are already friends with the profile, can leave posts in remembrance. When memorialized, no one can log in to the profile.
Of course, in order to memorialize or delete an account, proof of death has to be provided. Additionally, the request can only be given by someone who is able to prove that they are in a position to act on the deceased’s behalf.
Meanwhile, if the account does actually get deleted, it will remain on the Facebook archives. These archives contain a copy of every single post, picture or video that was uploaded to it. The archive can be downloaded by an account holder, which then raises the question about whether a relative or someone with probate rights would be able to download it as well. It seems that this would not be possible, as a breach of privacy would then occur.
Verified relatives can ask Facebook to memorialize the account. However, even they will only be able to see the information that had been set to share. According to Facebook, relatives would not be able to download things such as private messages, as there are no records of the deceased person agreeing to this. Facebook is currently formulating a response to the situation if someone specifically bequeaths his or her online assets in a will, as this would change matters slightly.
A High Profile Case
Facebook clearly takes the issue of dead account holders seriously. A few months ago, a very high profile case happened in which a 15 year old boy committed suicide. His parents had asked for access to his account, as they were hoping to have a clearer picture of why he decided to take his own life. In this case, Facebook fought tooth and nail to stop the parents from accessing this data, even though they had received a court order.
With the new features, however, this may change. In this country, users are now able to select who gets to control their account should they die. This service is set to roll out globally. Once in place, the ‘legacy contact’ will be able to access a Facebook account after the person’s death has been confirmed and they will then be able to pin notices on timelines, accept friends requests, update profile photos and more.