Virtual Ownership – What Happens to Your Online World When You Die?

I was forwarded an interesting article from the BBC website earlier this week regarding what happens to our digital lives once we die?
The main thrust of the article was about a young woman (Becky) who tragically died at the age of 19.
The young woman’s mother (Louise) would log into Facebook for Becky to help her keep in touch with her friends, when due to the terminal illness she lost most of her power of speech and movement.

After Becky died in 2010, Louise continued to use her daughters Facebook account to access private messages sent to Becky and to look after the page in memory of her daughter.

So what happened next?

Facebook closed (or in their terms ‘memorialised’) the account, which meant that Louise was no longer able to access Becky’s account.

Can they do this?

Yes, is the simple answer. The terms and conditions of the Facebook account mean that only the registered user is able to access that account, and so when you die, the account will become private, and only those with ‘friend’ access can view the account. But someone else, in this case the deceased's mother, is unable to run the page, no matter what her daughters wishes.

Is this morally right?

It’s a minefield when you look at the legal implications of what happens to a person’s digital life once they die. You could even be committing a crime by accessing a deceased loved one’s personal social media accounts. But surely, morally, if it is the wishes of the deceased that a family member or friend has access to those accounts, then this should be able to happen?

What about the future?

At the moment, other than leaving all of your usernames and passwords in your will, which may be illegal, there are not really any alternatives. Here at AVAMAE we have discussed the idea of a ‘Digital Vault’, a repository where all of your online accounts could be stored and accessed by yourself and those that you wanted to grant access too.

With so much of our thoughts, purchases and images stored online in varying accounts, how can we ensure that our online legacy is available to our families and loved ones?

Click on the link below to read the rest of the fascinating article, written by the BBC News: Legal Correspondent, Clive Coleman

10 April 2015
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