Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Dying Online

I was recently reviewing some notices from a social networking website when I saw a familiar name. I clicked on the link and found the site of a good friend. The only problems was that he died several months ago. Here was his social networking site, still being suggested as a contact, receiving notices and chugging away while the owner had passed on to his reward. More than many other recent incidents in my life, this gave me pause to think.

How long will all my social networking sites keep operating after I die? How will my wife and family even begin to guess which of all my online contacts and websites remain active after I die. How does anyone notify Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and the other huge social networking sites that the person is dead?

Apparently this is a very old issue on the Web. Quoting from a Time Magazine article from 2009:
In an Oct. 26 blog post, Max Kelly, Facebook's head of security, announced the company's policy of "memorializing" profiles of users who have died, taking them out of the public search results, sealing them from any future log-in attempts and leaving the wall open for family and friends to pay their respects. Though most media reports claimed this was a new Facebook feature, a spokeswoman for the company told TIME that it's an option the site has had since its early days.
Read more: What Happens to Your Facebook Profile When You Die? - TIME,8599,1932803,00.html#ixzz2kjEjkzAZ
But the issue here with my friend is that his surviving wife and children likely are completely unaware of the existence of this particular social networking site. They almost certainly have no idea, even if they did know about the site, how to remove the person from the site or turn it into a "memorial" if that is even possible.

Here is what the Facebook Help Center has to say about the subject:

Memorializing Accounts

Memorializing the account:
It is our policy to memorialize the account of a deceased person.
In order to protect the privacy of the deceased person, we cannot provide login information for the account. However, once it has been memorialized, we take measures to secure the account.
If you need to report a timeline to be memorialized, please contact us.
Removing the account:
Verified immediate family members may request the removal of a loved one’s account from the site.
You're reading the Desktop Help answer. Learn more in our other Help Centers.

Unfortunately, the Help Center doesn't outline the process of notifying or even tell how to go about verifying an immediate family member.

Perhaps we should be concerned. Here is the same type of answer from Google+:

The authorized representative of a deceased user can apply for access to the contents of his Google account or/and close it. The process consists of the two followings stages:

Part 1.  Google requires the following information:
1. Your full name
2. Your physical mailing address
3. Your email address
4. A photocopy of your government-issued ID or driver’s license
5. The Gmail address of the deceased user
6. The death certificate of the deceased user.

Mail or fax this information to:
Google Inc. Gmail User Support - Decedents’ Accounts
c/o Google Custodian of Records
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043
Fax: 650-644-0358

Google will review your request and notify you by email as to whether or not we will be able to move beyond Part 1 to the next steps of the process.

Part 2 will require you to get additional legal process including an order from a U.S. court and/or submitting additional materials.

After becoming an access to the Google account of a deceased user, the authorized representative can downgrade his/her Google+ profile.

Does this sound like fun? What if you have a Trust and don't want to have a probate or a get an order from a U.S. Court?

This looks like a serious issue. More later. 


  1. Thank you for sharing this issue with us. We are all in a position, I believe, to have a real need to know how to handle the social presence of loved ones. I don't think my own husband has any idea how many different sites I am associated with because of my genealogy research these past 10 years. I'll look forward to what else you share on this subject.

  2. Thanks for this post. A very close and loved relative of mine still has his facebook account. I love it because every once in a while I get a birthday or or anniversary reminder and it is like Rex is touching my life still and reminding me to say hello to his kids and grandkids. So that is cool but his typed autobiography was stored in one of his online accounts and the family had trouble getting it because they didn't know his password. Since then I've started keeping one list of all account logons and passwords online where it is easy to update no matter which computer I'm working from. The passwords aren't the real deal but phrases that will help my husband remember the actual password. I have a simple letter in our safe to my husband which gives him the info to access this one on line emergengy account and the translation key to my online phrase version of the passwords. My big worry is that with all our bank accounts being paperless and credit cards and utilities on autopay if something were to happen he needs an easy trail to be able to pick up our finances where I leave off. Again thanks for posting this.

    1. It is really a very complex problem as shown by the procedures outlined by Google requiring a court order. Thanks for the comment.