Facebook lets users pick 'legacy contact' to manage profile after death

Online personalities will live on in cyberspace in a new initiative by the world's biggest social network to serve its 1.4 billion users worldwide

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 February, 2015, 7:52am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 February, 2015, 10:27am

Facebook is making it easier to plan for your online afterlife.

The world's biggest social network said on Thursday it will now let users pick someone who can manage their account after they die. Previously, accounts were "memorialised" after death or locked so that no one could log in.

But Facebook says its users wanted more choice. Beginning in the US, Facebook users can pick a "legacy contact" to post on after they die, respond to new friend requests and update their profile picture and cover photo. Users can also have their accounts deleted after their death, which was not possible before.

If you want someone to manage your account after you die, click on the upside-down triangle on the top right corner of your page, open "settings" and find "security". For US users there will be an option to edit your legacy contact, who must be a Facebook user. But you don't have to pick someone else to manage your account. You can also check a box to permanently delete your account when you die.

The person you choose to manage your account won't be notified of your choice until your Facebook account has been memorialised. But you can send them a message before. Facebook will also send you an annual reminder of your pick. This could help if the person dies before you do, for example, or if your friendship cools as the years pass.

If you give your contact additional permission, they will be able to download and archive your photos, posts and profile information after you die. They will not be able to access your private messages. To log into your account, they will have to use their own Facebook login - they won't be able to sign in as you.

"We want to keep Facebook secure so we don't allow people to share their password or let anyone else access their account," said Jodi Seth, a spokeswoman for Facebook. "With the legacy contact, the user is giving permission in advance to a trusted friend or family member to manage specific aspects of the account."

If a person doesn't name a legacy contact, but names a digital heir in a legal will, Facebook would allow that person to become the legacy contact. However, if a person were to name a digital heir in a legal will and that person wasn't the same as named as a legacy contact, Facebook would give the legacy contact control.

Facebook accounts are memorialised at the request of loved ones, who must provide proof of the person's death, such as an obituary. Facebook tries to ensure that the account of the dead user doesn't show up as a "suggested friend" or in other ways that could upset.

Facebook, which has nearly 1.4 billion users, will not say how many accounts are memorialised, though Facebook product manager Vanessa Callison-Burch said there have been "hundreds of thousands" of requests from loved ones to do so.

Other internet companies also offer ways to posthumously manage your accounts. On Google, a tool called "inactive account manager" lets you choose to have your data deleted after three, six or 12 months. Or you can choose someone, such as a parent, to receive the data. The tool covers not just email but also Google services such as Google Plus, YouTube and Blogger.

Twitter, meanwhile, will deactivate your account if contacted by a family member or a person authorised to act on behalf of your estate, after verifying not only that you died but that the Twitter account is yours, since many people don't use their full names on the site.

Additional reporting by Tribune News Service