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Digital Death - What Can I Do?

Digital Death - What Can I Do?

6 Jul 2019

What happens to all your social media accounts, data and photographs after you die? Are they just left to rot in the emptiness of cyber space - or is there a way for our loved ones to retrieve them?

It's not something we think to do - getting our digital house in order. But not making provisions for after we're gone could cause significant problems for your people.

To avoid any post mortem headaches, here's our guide to the major social-media platforms, and how they deal with life after (your) death.


Facebook

Until 2016, a Facebook page could only be memorialised after the death of a user if this was requested by a close friend or family member. Among other things, the process involved filling out an online form and providing the deceased user's death certificate or obituary.

Nowadays, users can sort this out themselves – while still alive, obviously. By going into the Facebook memorialisation settings and choose what'll become of their page: deleted or memorialised. Users can now also nominate a named person to manage the account when the time comes.

That nominee won’t be able to log in and snoop around old private messages, but will be allowed to respond to new friend requests, update cover and profile photos, write posts, and archive old content.
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Instagram

While Facebook allows users to dictate their wishes for after they die, Instagram's solution is pretty one-size-fits-all.

Insta simply asks that friends or relatives contact them via e-mail to notify them that a user has passed. As with most other social media platforms, proof is required in the form of a death certificate, obituary or similar.

As with Facebook, Instagram memorialises accounts upon death. Once in place, memorialised profiles can't be changed or accessed, and there is no option to nominate a new contact.

The deceased user's posts will stay on-site, visible and clickable, but memorialised accounts won’t any longer appear in public spaces such as user searches.

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Twitter

If a Twitter user dies, the company says it will work with a person authorised to act on behalf of the estate - or a verified immediate family member - to have an account deactivated. With the right ID and proof, a third party can request that a deceased user's account is deleted entirely.

To quickly note the difference between deactivated and deleted – the former means that the user is no longer searchable but their information stays on the system. The latter means that all user information is permanently deleted from servers.

Same as Facebook, and most other social platforms, Twitter says it won't give a third-party access to a deceased user's account, regardless of relationship. There's no memorialisation options on Twitter, so deactivation or deletion are the only ways to go.

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LinkedIn

As a professional social platform, LinkedIn works slightly differently. Any user can request the removal of a deceased person's page - not just close friends or family. As with all other platforms, there's a security vetting process and the requesting party must know key information about the deceased.

Upon a user's death, the only possibility on LinkedIn is to delete the account. Like other social networks, LinkedIn won't provide log-ins or access to the deceased's account. So unless you have those logins – no dice.

As a professional networking site, however, this can cause problems. Often a person's contacts – that may have been built over significant time – were done so on behalf of a company. Currently there is no way contacts can be exported to colleagues or company admins, even if they form the backbone of a business’s client-base.
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Google

A person's Google account often contains all manner of media (photos, apps, videos, films, games) as well as personal services (G-Pay, email, files, accounts) and professional services (email, storage, documents, drives, Google's G-Suite).
Pertinent personal and professional information live in a Google account – information friends, family and colleagues might need. Many Google services involve billing - so those need to be stopped or reallocated too.

Upon death, Google co-operate with immediate family members or representatives. The usual proof is required before an account goes into review.

As with all other providers, Google won't provide passwords or other login details to anyone. Family requests to see content held within a deceased user's account will be listened to, but a decision won't come until after a thorough review.

In certain circumstances, Google may share content stored in the deceased user's account with friends and family.

Like Facebook, there are in-life ways Google users can make provisions. Inactive Account Manager lets users inform Google who should have access to their information upon death, and users can decide if they want their account to live on or be deleted.

If you want to set your own post-death preferences start at Google's help section.

To request data from a deceased person's account, Google help is again the best place to start. But once again you'll need a death certificate or obituary. And if you're seeking funds that are locked in a Google account, you'll need a court order.

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Tinder / Grindr

Dating apps haven't much in place if a user dies. In order to deactivate a Tinder or a Grindr account, the requesting party must have the login credentials. Currently, third-party requests will not lead to the removal of a profile/ page.

No, the only option is to delete. And if the deceased didn’t share logins with anyone prior to death, then the account stays active for several months before being registered as inactive – meaning. Yes, it's weird to think that deceased users are still being swiped right and left some months after they're dead.

After an account is designated inactive it is still discoverable, but pushed to the very back of search listings.

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Apple

Just like Google, Apple provides a vast array of services, programs and media. Consequently, users may have Apple accounts covering music, films, TV packages, storage, apps, software, email … the list goes on and on.

Upon signing Apple's fabled Terms and Conditions, the user agrees that their account is non-transferable, and that any rights to their Apple account – and all content therein – dies with the user.

Apple will never give out passcodes to phones, passwords or any login credentials, except in the very rarest of occasions – usually involving courts and legal enforcement.

So typically, upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate the deceased's Apple account will be terminated. And all content within the relevant accounts deleted.

If in-life a user doesn't make provisions to hand passwords over to a trusted person, then all downloaded and saved media is permanently deleted. This can represent thousands of pounds worth of photos, music and video etc. being irretrievably lost.

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Most large Internet companies, citing privacy laws, won't allow family to access a deceased person's account after death.

To get around the post-death shutout, users can provide lists of passwords to their digital accounts in a Will, along with the names of persons authorised to use them. Strictly speaking this isn’t allowed, but there is no stringent enforcement policy. If a trusted contact has login credentials for an account, then they can access that account and obtain any relevant data before making moves to close the account.

While it's prudent to think about your digital legacy in your Will, don't include credentials on that document itself as it may be read by several people. It's advisable to select a named and trusted person, and note instructions for them to obtain log-in credentials.

Best practice is to write down a list of social media accounts that need to be actioned after death, and then specifying a safe place, known to the nominated person, where login credentials can be found. Also where possible, set preferences on your accounts to specify what should happen upon your death. Doing so will remove friends and family guesswork.

It's not the cheeriest of subjects, but it's an area that has been dangerously under-publicised. Millions of pounds worth of data, and precious photos, are irretrievably lost each year. More than that, having a dead loved one drift along in cyberspace as if they were still here can be massively upsetting.

For anyone concerned about the fate of their online footprint, follow the steps noted above and consult individual platforms.

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