July 9, 2014

Share Everywhere

Giving Our Social Media Sites A Proper Burial

How many of you have thought about what will happen to your photographs and other sensitive, personally identifiable information archived on social media sites after you die? I don’t know about you, but much like funeral planning, end of life social media planning isn’t something I’d ever considered. If you haven’t thought about it, though, now’s probably a good time to start because it presents complicated scenarios that our loved ones will encounter when our time comes. A clear-cut set of standards does not exist due to a lack of uniform legislation, varying terms of services agreements on social media sites, and state-specific property rights laws.

Questions We Should Be Asking Ourselves

  • Who owns my data?
  • How long until account deactivation?
  • Can others claim my user name?
  • What happens when a friend or family member passes?

Facebook, for example allows verified next of kin to convert a deceased loved one’s page into a memorial page. Verified next of kin can also submit requests to delete their deceased loved one’s “timeline and associated content.” If memorialized, however, changes cannot be made to the deceased’s page, and, depending on the existing privacy settings, friends will continue to have the same privileges as before. For example, they may still be able to view your content and post to your timeline. Also, any groups created within that profile survive profile deletion, with members within the groups having the ability to select new admins.

This issue extends beyond social media site to personal blogs, as well. One obvious solution would be for the user to delete all their social media accounts and blogs if they know they’re nearing end. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help family members whose loved ones have died unexpectedly. That old saying that possession is nine tenths of the law does not apply here, because even if an authorized family member has the deceased’s login credentials, sites such as Facebook, for example, expressly prohibit anyone but the user from accessing the user’s site.


FB Memorialization Request Digital Assets

“Memorializing a page prevents anyone from logging into it in the future, while enabling friends and family to leave posts on the profile Wall in remembrance.” FACEBOOK


Limits To Facebook Memorialized Page

Following are three features no longer promoted by Facebook on memorialized pages:

  • Not available to public search (only friends)
  • Profile will not be suggested to other users
  • Page cannot be tagged

What Happens To Our Data When We Die?

Following are two must-reads pertaining to the disposition of our data after we die, not just data archived on social media sites. This article that we published discusses recent legislation passed to restrict access to the 86 million decedents’ PII found in the Social Security Death Master File (SSDMF), which covers everyone in the United States. And this detailed infographic provides some interesting statistics on the number of deceased Facebook users. It, also, summarizes account deactivation requirements for the bigger social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google.

It’s a lot to think about. A final question we should be asking is whether we will we see similar legislation as that pertaining to the SSDMF passed to protect user data on social media sites? Does this new information change your views about social media and your future plans for protecting your identity?

Are you doing everything possible to protect yourself and your family?

Image courtesy of Flickr user Ezzy Languzzi

Ezzy Languzzi

Ezzy is a working mother and educator. She writes from the perspective of a parent seeking to strike a balance between all that technology has to offer and its privacy implications. Ezzy lives in Boston with her husband, son, two dogs, and two chickens.

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