What happens to your online life after you die?

Around 67% of the UK population are regular users of social media – that’s over 45 million people! The majority of us are active on our accounts every single day. Sometimes we can’t even go hours without checking it, posting on our timelines, sharing pictures, and chatting with friends. Social media takes a snapshot of our lives and documents them in a timeline of events and memories.

But what happens to our accounts after we die? Are they handed over to our family and friends in the same way as physical belongings, memorialised as a ghost account, or deleted completely? We wanted to discover if we still have the same control over what happens to our profiles when we’re dead as when we’re alive – after all, it doesn’t belong to anyone else…right?

Tools to help you control your online presence after you die

If you want to keep in control of your internet presence when you are no longer present, Google has designed a way. Google Inactive Account Manager is a new tool that allows you to set up steps that will automatically be taken when your account has been inactive for a certain length of time (a minimum of 3 months, and a maximum of 1 year).

It allows you to choose trusted contacts that will be able to access and download your data, and an autoresponder who can notify people that your account is currently inactive. You can also choose for your account to be deleted. Although the deletion process is explained quite vaguely, it sounds a lot easier than the alternative; which involves providing Google with a copy of your death certificate before waiting to see if they’ll agree to close your account.

Facebook provides a similar option in the situation of death, by offering to convert your account to a “Memorial Page”, a process which has now become more advanced by the introduction of a feature called “Legacy Contacts.” Facebook state that, “until now, when someone passed away, we offered a basic memorialized account which was viewable, but could not be managed by anyone” which they then followed with, “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.”

Legacy contacts follows a similar format to Google Inactive Account Manager, in that trusted contacts are chosen by the user, who would then have access and control over their profile after they die. But, neither tools are the same as simply handing over your username and password to someone else. This tool doesn’t allow people to post as the deceased person, it just gives the designated person the option to change the profile picture, add a memorial pin to the top of the profile, and download an archive of the user’s posts and pictures.

Current laws, terms, and conditions around digital privacy

There is a law called the “Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act.” This law states that, “a fiduciary with authority over digital assets or digital accounts of an account holder under this chapter shall have the same access as the account holder.” Some online services, such as Yahoo, disagree with this law, as the expanded access violates and contradicts with the terms and conditions their users agreed to when they signed up.

However, many argue that social media’s terms and conditions aren’t enough to go by, and those who have lost their loved ones want to have more control and access to their online profiles. Family members have spoken out about how being able to read and view their loved one’s old messages and posts helps them grieve and remember them, and there is a sense of comfort in knowing they still receive messages from people who miss them. They believe that their family member or friend wouldn’t have wanted their information kept private from them, and feel it’s something they’d want to share.

When an account is memorialised (on Facebook), the login information is also locked and unavailable to be accessed by anyone. But aren’t your online assets the same as your physical belongings? And if you can leave them to a relative or a friend after you die, surely the same should apply for social media pages?

What happens to cryptocurrency when we die?

Cryptocurrency is dealt with differently to most other online assets. You can find more information in our cryptocurrency and wills guide

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