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Facebook Makes Memorialized Accounts More Public

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Last year I wrote an Introduction to Estate Planning for Digital Assets.  Digital assets include everything from e-mail to photo sharing to cloud music storage to social networks.  I explained that this is an emerging area without a lot of legal guidance and with a lot of change expected as laws and policies evolve over time.

Facebook’s policy with respect to accounts of deceased individuals had been to allow friends or family to notify Facebook who would then convert the account into a “memorialized account” that would not be searchable and would be visible only to existing friends.  Facebook has now changed the last part of that policy.  Instead of restricting view of memorialized accounts only to existing friends, the visibility of a memorialized account will be based on the privacy settings that the individual maintained at his or her time of death.  In other words, if your profile and posts were set to be visible to the public, it will remain that way after your death.

Facebook explained the change this way:

“Based on conversations inspired by these questions, we’ve decided to make an important change to how we preserve legacies on Facebook. Up to now, when a person’s account was memorialized, we restricted its visibility to friends-only. This meant that people could no longer see the account or any of its content unless they were Facebook friends with the person who passed away. Starting today, we will maintain the visibility of a person’s content as-is. This will allow people to see memorialized profiles in a manner consistent with the deceased person’s expectations of privacy. We are respecting the choices a person made in life while giving their extended community of family and friends ongoing visibility to the same content they could always see.”

Further policy changes are promised, and I look forward to seeing those adjustments.  Facebook might take a cue from Google which allows you to either set your accounts to be deleted after a specific period of inactivity or to designate specific individuals to access and manage data.  In this way, your designated individual (sort of a digital executor) could adjust privacy settings as may be appropriate for the situation.

Reference: Wall Street Journal “Facebook Makes Profiles of Dead Users More Visible”