When a loved one dies, we find comfort not just in our memories, but in photographs, keepsakes and mementoes that connect us to the person we miss. But what becomes of the memories and moments shared in the digital realm, and the parts of us we share that continue to exist online? And #WhatCanYouDo to preserve your own data?
What will happen to my Facebook account if I pass away?
The number of Facebook accounts belonging to deceased individuals could surpass the living users as early as 2065 – but there are steps you can take now to safeguard your account after your death.
A few years ago Facebook introduced a feature that allowed users to submit a request to memorialise an individual’s account, protecting the personal data with privacy settings that allow only existing friends to view the page or continue sharing memories and messages on their wall.
You can make your wishes known now by visiting the Settings page of your Facebook account. Here, you can choose to nominate a Legacy Contact to help manage the memorialisation or deletion of your account after your death – giving you the chance to make your preferences known.
My friend/relative has passed away – can I access their Facebook account?
If you are a family member or close friend, you can contact Facebook to request the memorialisation of your loved one’s account, but may find your application more likely to be approved by providing a link or documentation as proof of death.
Users can also submit a request to delete an account if they prefer; bearing in mind that choosing to keep the data before deletion is a complicated process that requires a court order.
You can find more information on protecting or accessing a loved one’s Facebook data in their Help Centre.
What about my other accounts, like email, or my iPad?
Lots of people have accounts with various different digital services such as email providers and shopping sites like Amazon. Many of us also make use of Cloud storage services such as Dropbox to save precious files and photographs. With so many password protected stores of your personal data, why not consider leaving some guidance for family and friends after you die?
You could seal a list of your account passwords in an envelope or create a password protected document, leaving it in the care of a trusted person.
There are also digital services like Legacy Locker which allow you to manage your passwords as you browse, and choose contacts you wish to entrust your accounts to after you die.
Remember: If you have a traditional will in Britain, it will become public record when it goes to probate, so don’t include your passwords for your executor here.
Another option for storing your passwords and legal documents as well as recording your wishes is the UK website Final Fling. By creating an account, you can save memories, create a bucket list, and make use of their excellent resources and information to help you make decisions about your own end of life plans – and leave instructions for others.
For more in-depth guidance on securing your digital legacy, visit Dead Social’s excellent resource pages with advice and tutorials on everything from passing on your devices to using iTunes playlists to help choose songs to play at a loved one’s funeral.
What about future technologies?
There's a new kind of service springing up which goes beyond simply preserving your data; and instead curates it to create a 'Digital Avatar' of you. Friends and family can interact with the avatar, which is built using the thoughts and memories you have recorded online through websites like Eterni.me and Eter9 and artificial intelligence to say things you might say - or even continue posting. Do these promises of 'virtual immortality' belong in a dystopian fictional Black Mirror universe, or is this an innovative new way to celebrate the history of an individual human being - and continue living after death?