Most of us at some point in our lives have had to struggle our way through the difficult task of sorting through old pictures, scrap books, and family albums of a deceased friend or relative. The idea being that family members and loved ones may cherish the memories associated with these deeply personal reminders of a person's life and experiences.

As more and more of these types of photos, albums, and shared experiences are becoming digitalized in social media platforms like Facebook, a new legal dispute has arisen, and has become more and more common. It involves the loved ones of someone who passed wanting access/ownership rights to photos, posts, and digital information shared on (and therefore owned by) Facebook.

Under Facebook's current policy, deaths can be reported in an online form. When the site learns of a death, it puts that person's account in a memorialized state. Certain information is removed, and privacy is restricted to friends only. The profile and wall are left up so friends and loved ones can make posts in remembrance. Facebook will provide the estate of the deceased with a download of the account data "if prior consent is obtained from or decreed by the deceased or mandated by law."If a close relative asks that a profile be removed, Facebook will honor that request, too.

The problem is, for those of us without the foresight to leave our consent for family members with access our "digital estate," loved ones longing for access to the shared memories on Facebook may be at a loss. The current standard operating procedure upon notification of a death seems to be to change passwords and lock down the account, prohibiting even close relatives from gaining access. Currently several states are pushing legislation through that would grant users rights to their "digital estate," which would allow family members to have a kind of shared ownership right of the material on their loved one's Facebook page. Right now, the only option for concerned relatives may be to bring legal action to compel Facebook to grant them access.

While it is stated in the Facebook terms of use that any and all material posted becomes the property of Facebook, with the rise of the digital age it is about time that social media users had more control over use and ownership of the personal material they post. Hopefully digital estate laws will catch on and become commonplace in the US over the next several years.

"Facebook Profiles and the Deceased" was written by Matt Davis. Matt is a Victim Advisor at the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to and linking back to ITRC Blog.

 

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