0 Digital demise

SocialMediaI know this is a bit sinister, but have you ever wondered who owns your data, especially when you shuffle off this mortal coil? Will your Facebook account deactivate? Will LinkedIn outlive you?

I started to ponder this question when I was prompted by LinkedIn to congratulate one of my contacts on a work anniversary and wish another a happy birthday, both of whom were well respected industry folk who had passed away earlier this year. Incidentally, I personally don't get involved in the trivia of social media, but you can perhaps understand how doing so might be traumatic for surviving family members and friends should you not know of your contact's passing.

So, I thought I would investigate further. The following data was provided by Webpage FX.

Firstly, some Facebook facts:

- 30 million Facebook users died in the first eight years of its existence
- 428 die every hour
- 10,273 die every day
- 312,500 die every month
- every day, over 10,000 deceased users are likely to be friends requested, tagged in a photo or wished a happy birthday

If Facebook were to stop growing, which seems unlikely, then deceased members would outnumber living members by 2065. However, assuming Facebook continues to grow at its current rate, then 2030 would be the crossover year.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

- who actually owns your data?
- how long until deactivation?
- can others claim your user name?
- what happens when a family member or friend passes?

In most cases your data is protected, even after your death. Your data cannot be accessed unless a legal order is obtained or you authorise access before your passing.

Who owns your data?

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Google all state that ownership belongs to the individual, but with exceptions as follows:

Facebook - if prior consent is obtained from or decreed by the deceased or mandated by law

Twitter - will work with a person authorised to act on behalf of the estate or with a verified immediate family member of the deceased

LinkedIn - unless LinkedIn has a good faith belief that disclosure is permitted by law or is reasonably necessary to comply with a legal requirement or process

Google - in rare cases, Google may be able to provide the account content to an authorised representative of the deceased user

Pinterest - state that they want to respect the privacy of their pinners and cannot give out any personal or log-in information

How long until your account is deactivated?

Facebook - until memorialised* or reported

Twitter - six months

Pinterest - never

LinkedIn - until reported

Google - nine months, until reported or until the time previously set with the inactive account manager**

Can others claim your user name?

On Facebook and LinkedIn the answer is yes. On Twitter, Pinterest and Google it is not possible for someone else to claim your user name.

What happens when a family member or friend passes away?

The requirements for deactivation are as follows:

Facebook - proof you are an immediate family member

Twitter - deceased users death certificate and your ID

Pinterest - documentation of their passing and your relationship to them

LinkedIn - members name and relationship to them, company they worked for, link to their profile and their email address details

Google - death certificate and full header and content of an email from the gmail address in question

There are, of course, other social media sites such as tumblr, flickr, Instagram and MySpace, all of whom will have similar user terms and conditions in place.


* A Facebook Memorialised Account is given new privacy settings. Status updates and contacts are removed and only confirmed friends will be able to see their loved one's profile or find it in a search.

The deceased's profile will also no longer appear in the 'Suggestions panel', which links friends of friends together. This is to stop cases where grieving relatives have been reminded of their loved ones as if they were still alive.

Friends are also able to leave remembrance posts on the deceased person's wall.

** Google Inactive Account Manager - how it works:

Choose a phone mumber and additional email addresses to be allerted before your account is deactivated.

Set your own time-out period for your account between three and eighteen months.

Google will alert you one month before the expiry period.

Google will notify up to ten contacts when this happens and choose what data they will be permitted to download.

Optionally delete the account.

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