Some people share every detail of their life on social media, but many don’t take the necessary steps to protect that information after they’re gone.
According to digital privacy expert Ray Walsh, when you die, your existing online profile can present a privacy risk. He works at ProPrivacy.com.
This could lead to your account being used for anything, from the launch of phishing campaigns to identity theft.
“Even a relative or friend could theoretically gain access to an account if it isn’t well-protected, or if that person knows the deceased person’s password,” said Walsh.
“This can lead to messages or other sensitive information being revealed about that person after they die.”
For this reason, Walsh encourages strong, randomized passwords that aren’t likely to be guessed.
“The good news is that firms never give access to a deceased person’s account — even if they approach them with proof that they are next of kin,” he said.
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He also recommends that people are proactive by authorizing a close friend or family member to manage the account after they have died.
“This makes the process of having an account either taken down or memorialized much easier,” Walsh said.
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Most major platforms have a process for deletion, but Walsh is skeptical about whether your data is also entirely deleted, too.
“Facebook claims that if an account is deleted, then all the data associated with the account is completely erased. Whether this is definitively true is not known, and it’s possible that the firm does store some historical data about the user,” he said.
According to Walsh, a digital will is the best way to control exactly what happens to your account when you die.
“This allows people to decide for themselves what happens to their online presence when they die, meaning that they can choose to either be deleted or memorialized,” he said.
If you opt not to have a digital will, each major platform will deal with your account in a slightly different way.
When you die, your Facebook account will become a memorial page if and when Facebook is made aware of your passing.
If your friends post messages about your death to your wall, it’s likely the site will automatically realize you’ve died. However, friends and family can also notify the platform of your death.
Once memorialized, your account will remain largely the same, but with a few additions — like the word “remembering” next to your name.
The content you shared when you were alive (like photos and posts) remains on Facebook and visible to the audience you originally shared it with, and, depending on your privacy settings, friends can share memories to your timeline.
Once an account is in memorial mode, no one can log in.
If you prefer that a close friend or family member have control over your account when you die, you need to preemptively assign a legacy contact.
A legacy contact is someone who can edit settings on a memorialized account. Without a legacy contact, your page will remain untouched.
From accepting friend requests to pinning a tribute post to the profile, a legacy contact can actively engage with those contributing to your Facebook memorial.
If a memorial account is not for you, you need to declare that you would like your account permanently deleted when you die.
In your Facebook settings, click “manage account.” Scroll down to “request account deletion” and choose “delete after death.”
There are two options for your Instagram account — but, unlike Facebook, neither need to be chosen prior to your death.
The photo-sharing platform, which is owned by Facebook, also offers a memorialization option.
This requires “proof of death,” which Instagram defines as a link to an obituary or news article.
Once memorialized, Instagram will “try to prevent references to memorialized accounts from appearing on Instagram in ways that may be upsetting to the person’s friends and family.”
A delete option is available, but it must be requested by an immediate family member after you’ve passed.
There is a form that can be filled out, and your family member will need to provide proof (such as your birth or death certificate, or proof of authority that they are the lawful representative of the deceased.
Twitter offers only one option for when you die, and that’s removal of your account from the platform.
It requires someone authorized to act on behalf of your estate or a verified immediate family member.
Once the application form is sent in, the sender will receive an email from Twitter asking for more details — such as a copy of your ID and a copy of your death certificate.