Have you thought about what you will do with your digital legacy when you are no longer alive? Here we highlight how and why it should matter to configure Facebook, Google, Twitter and other platforms as prevention in case of user death.
“If you do not plan what to do with the fingerprint, it is up to other people to go through this process. In addition to their pain and the usual paperwork, they will have to deal with Facebook, Twitter, Apple, or whatever account you have. Above all, they will want to protect your memory, but they may also want to prevent notifications about, for example, your birthday. Less than 15 years ago, this was not really a problem. But now managing the digital legacy of deceased family and friends is a growing problem, and in a few decades, platforms like Facebook might even have more profiles of dead people than living people, mainly as their user base begins to stagnate, says Camilo Gutiérrez Amaya, Head of the ESET Latin America Research Laboratory.
The process they recommend going through takes no more than an hour, and should be reviewed every 5 years or so to make sure that the people who were given the power to decide what to do with virtual life after death remain the same given closeness or affinity:
1. Facebook: If you have a Facebook account, there are 2 different paths:
Delete the account in case of death. This is a request that is made to Facebook and that no one can change. However, this requires someone to send a photo of the death certificate to Meta, in order for them to report the death. It’s important to make sure that someone close to you knows that this is what you want so that you move forward when the time comes.
You can choose a legacy contact who will manage the memorial accounts. This should be someone you trust who is willing to manage the profile, tribute posts, photos, etc. While for some people this can be emotionally distressing, others may find comfort in it, so keep this in mind to ensure you choose the right person.
Whether you decide to have someone take care of the profile or delete it, you should talk to the person who you think could do it. In addition, this contact must be able to access the death certificate and of course must also have a Facebook account.
3. Google: Most likely, many Google services are used, including Gmail, YouTube, or even Google Drive. To prevent important information from becoming inaccessible, Google Inactive Account Manager can be enabled. Google will then be able to detect account inactivity and issue a downloadable link to a previously chosen contact. The period of time that determines inactivity is decided by the user, as is what data can be downloaded. You can also decide if an account should be deleted three months after it was shared with the legacy contact. However, this implies that all content will be removed, including YouTube videos or blog posts, a reason why not everyone might want to enable this option.
Alternatively, if it is decided not to leave any instructions, the family members or legal representative may request the deletion of the account and even some data or funds. Google indicates that the decision will continue to have privacy as a priority and each case will be reviewed individually.
4. Microsoft: It does not provide any specific tools that allow you to manage legacy, or allow a family member to request account removal. However, Microsoft will remove the accounts in compliance with a court order. The only exception applies to customers in Germany, whose legal successors can contact Microsoft customer service and, if in possession of a death certificate and other documents, request account closure.
5. Twitter: It does not have any policy in place to decide what will happen to an account after the user dies. Instead, allow a family member or authorized representative to contact Twitter and request account removal. The platform will request copies of the death certificate, as well as the applicant’s ID card and possibly some additional information.
6. Apple: Introduced in 2021 the possibility of choosing a Legacy Contact. This feature is only available to people 13 and older and has some technical limitations: You must have an active Apple ID on a device running at least iOS 15.2, iPadOS 15.2, or macOS Monterey 12.1. The Apple ID must also have 2-factor authentication enabled.
If the requirements are met, this process can be performed on the device by tapping on the Apple ID icon in the Settings menu, selecting “Password & Security”, and finally selecting Legacy Contact. This will generate an access key in a QR code format that can be sent via Messages or printed and given to the chosen person. When the day comes, you can request access on the web or directly on an iOS or macOS device. Apple will also request a death certificate before granting access to the account.
7. PayPal: Just as with the other platforms, PayPal can only receive instructions from an authorized executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate to close an account and transfer funds. In addition to the death certificate, the legal representative will also need to have proof of her position through a living will or state-issued documentation. Finally, the remaining balance can be transferred to another PayPal account or issued as a check.
“We have seen how the technology develops and quickly got used to it. We post photos online without thinking much, or at all, about what that means. Because we can take hundreds of photos in a day without having to pay any extra for each time we press the shutter button on our phone’s camera, images have lost some of their value. But in reality, once we die, those are the images by which our acquaintances, friends and loved ones will remember us”, adds Gutiérrez Amaya from ESET.
In this context, it is recommended to take some additional steps in parallel to the organization of the digital legacy:
• Make a data backup. Social media platforms are company-run services, and companies might one day have to shut down and wipe all data in an instant, sometimes even by mistake.
• Make a second backup of important documents and images that you really do not want to lose.
• Never share passwords with others and continue to take that strong position on password sharing. However, planning for digital legacy management is a situation where it may not only be desirable to break that rule, but may feel necessary to do so. As Microsoft suggests, this is what needs to be done to provide digital legacy planning, and most other online services are clearly easier for their digital enforcer to manage if they simply have access to account credentials and can login as if they were the same user.
• Review legacy contacts every few years and make sure backups are working and in order.
Having all this information organized can also be very useful while you are alive!