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How Does Your Digital Footprint Change After Death?

Your persona may continue to exist after death in the form of data. This is particularly true if you use social media frequently (and let’s face it, most of us do), as your personal information leaves a digital trail that endures long after death.

By 2060, it’s possible that the deceased may outnumber the living on Facebook alone, according to some predictions. According to a 2019 estimate, depending on the growth pace of the network, between 1.4 billion and 4.9 billion Facebook profiles of deceased users may exist by the year 2100.

But it appears that a lot of individuals are unaware of what happens to their social media data when they pass away. A YouGov survey of 2,185 people conducted in 2015 revealed that 27% of respondents didn’t know, 20% believed it was inherited by close relatives, 36% believed the social networking firm owned it, and 17% believed nobody owned it. 52 percent of respondents who were asked who could access their accounts in the event of their death indicated nobody could.

So, how do you handle your posts after your death?

What will happen to my social media accounts if I pass away?
Facebook’s help center advises that instead of having your account remain dormant, “You can choose either to choose a legacy contact to look after your memorialized account or have your account permanently erased from Facebook.”

If you are 18 years of age or older, you can designate someone on your Friends list as your Facebook legacy contact to manage your profile after your passing. They have the option of maintaining the memorial account or completely deleting it. They can download shared content from the account with verification that they are the deceased’s authorized agent.

If you are not a legacy contact, Facebook also provides instructions on how to remove a deceased person’s Facebook account. Obituaries or memorial cards are acceptable forms of proof of death, and a will, birth certificate, power of attorney, or estate letter is acceptable form of authority.

“If we learn of your passing before you opt to have your account permanently removed, it will be commemorated.”

So what are Facebook memorialized pages? They still have their posts and images and have the word “Remembering” next to the person’s name. For memorialized accounts, birthday notifications or friend recommendations won’t show up, and neither the legacy contact nor anyone else will be able to log in.

However, a legacy contact can change the profile and cover photographs, create a message to pin to the memorialized profile, select who can post tributes to the profile, and choose who can view them.

Like Facebook, Instagram is owned by the business Meta. Consequently, their choices are comparable: With a legitimate request, your account can be memorialized or deleted. Requests for removal require evidence, such as birth or death certificates, indicating you are a member of the deceased person’s immediate family or are authorized to act on their behalf.

In addition to saying “Remembering” next to the user’s name, memorial Instagram accounts won’t show up on the Explore page. The memorialized account’s followers, posts, comments, profile picture, and accounts it follows cannot be altered.

In the case that a Twitter user passes away, Twitter states that it will “work with a person authorized to act on behalf of the estate, or with a verified immediate family member of the dead to have an account terminated.”

Twitter accounts can be requested to be deactivated, but you must prove your relationship to the deceased. Twitter demands a copy of the user’s death certificate as well as a copy of your ID in order to prevent erroneous reports.

Both Reddit and TikTok lack information about account memorialization, legacy contacts, or choices for loved ones to delete their accounts. Even said, TikTok does mention that “If an account is inactive for 180 days or more, the username may be reset to a randomized numeric username,” which would apply to people who have passed away and no longer use TikTok.

Since it’s unlikely that you’ll be looking for a job from beyond the grave and users can feel unhappy if they see a deceased loved one’s profile, LinkedIn lets you report people as deceased and provides forms for memorialization or account deletion requests.

Requests for memorialization and deletion must include the deceased’s passing date and a URL to their obituary. Family members must specify their relationship to the deceased and provide legal documentation demonstrating their right to act on their behalf.

After my death, what happens to my personal information?
Data protection laws only apply to “recognized or identifiable natural persons,” therefore in theory, if you pass away, any responsibilities related to data protection pass along with you.

Google is potentially sitting on a large goldmine of your personal data because it is the most visited website on the internet. Google claims that “People expect Google to keep their information safe, even in the case of their death” as a result.

One approach to retain control of your data after passing away is using Google’s Inactive Account Manager. After a predetermined amount of time without activity, it either deletes or forwards data to a reliable contact.

According to Google, “We consider a number of signs to determine whether you are currently use your Google Account. These consist of your most recent sign-ins, My Activity activity, Gmail usage (such as using the Gmail app on your phone), and Android check-ins.

Family members can ask Google to cancel your account or receive data from it if you pass away without doing this. Google, however, will not provide the account’s login information.

Microsoft accounts that have not been used for two years will automatically be closed. A non-criminal subpoena or court order must be sent to Microsoft before it will decide whether to disclose a user’s information to a third party.

From iOS 15.2, iPadOS 15.2, and macOS 12.1, Apple users can add a legacy contact to an Apple ID who will have access to the account’s data after the user’s passing. The user’s death certificate and the access key generated when they were selected are both necessary for this access. The Apple ID can also be deleted by legacy contacts.

Legacy contacts, however, are unable to access the user’s licensed media purchases or in-app purchases, payment information, or anything kept in their Keychain password manager. Apple cannot use passcodes to unlock devices since they are encrypted for passcode protection.

Access can still be requested by individuals who are not the Apple ID’s heritage contact with the appropriate legal proof, which varies by area.

After I pass away, what happens to my cryptocurrency?
Setting up a plan to make sure your money don’t go to the grave with you is crucial if you want to leave your investments to your loved ones when you pass away.

In fact, according to Kate Waltman, a blockchain asset expert and accountant, “the total number of Bitcoin in existence [capped at 21 million] won’t ever be 21 million because so many early adopters of Bitcoin have either died (without succession planning) or lost their wallet keys and can no longer access their funds.”

Some individuals advise writing down your wallet’s passcode or seed phrase and storing it in a safe location that your loved ones are aware of.

privacy following a death
These days, data transfers are used to conduct a large portion of our private life. Platforms and users alike may be concerned about how private this potentially extremely personal data can actually be.

At the moment, “post-mortem privacy” is not particularly protected by any legislation in the US. Most agreements between you and a corporation for things like social media accounts provide licenses and rights that may pass to the company if you pass away. For instance, Instagram retains the right to use your images to promote the service, which may carry on even after your passing.

The general rule is that your data belongs to you and is essentially your property. Carl Ahman, associate senior lecturer at Uppsala University’s Department of Government, said to Popular Mechanics in March 2022, “But you co-own it with whatever platform you’re uploading into. But he pointed out that since the dead cannot own anything, businesses eventually become the sole owners of the data.

What happens to our digital remains is very much a political discussion about who should be able to control our collective narratives of the digital past, as stated by hman: “What happens to our digital remains is not just an ethical matter of “who do I want to have access to my pictures on Instagram”.”

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