From time immemorial, countless people have looked at the stars and contemplated their existence and life’s greatest questions; What happens to us after we die? What will our legacy be? What will become of my Facebook account?
In an ever increasing digital world, this is a question that has been posed more than a few times between around the water cooler here at Beanstalk. With an ever increasing amount of users employing cloud based digital assets, and engaging in social media, many people are concerned not only for the protection of these valuable assets and intellectual property, but in preserving memories for friends and family for posterity.
A paper published law professor Jason Mazzone from the University of Illinois calls for federal government to interevene and to regulate what happens to digital accounts after an account holder’s demise.
Along with an ever increasing amount of people, Mazzone argues that social platforms and other online services have policies that do not adequately protect an individual’s intellectual property or privacy after their death.
"Virtually no law regulates what happens to a person’s online existence after his or her death," he said. "This is true even though individuals have privacy and copyright interests in materials they post to social networking sites."
In an absence of any legal regulations, social sites are unlikely to adopt any policies of their own accord that will do little to protect a users account or intellectual property. Presently there are very few regulations in place, and most sites are left developing policies on-the-fl, with little regard for the user’s data.
"It’s becoming increasingly common for people to have digital assets, and some of them do actually have value," he said. "Not only are such sites repositories of intellectual property, they also are important to family members and friends. Historians of the future will likely depend upon digital archives to reconstruct the past, which creates a real problem, particularly in an age when we don’t leave diaries, and, increasingly, people don’t write books."
Facebook’s policy is to "memorialize" the deceased’s account. All content that has been uploaded (status updates, photos & videos) are removed. The user’s wall remains intact so that individuals can express their condolences to the departed. However, the user data is not deleted by Facebook. Currently, the data is archived with the speculation that it will be held for posterity by Facebook until a such time where it can be re-purposed for historical records.
There is no system in place to state your wishes for your account after your demise (similar to a living will) and no regulations in place to appoint an executor of your estate. As the population of Facebook users begin to age, Mazzone is at the forefront of a growing movement to instill federally mandated regulations to protect the billions of Facebook and social networking users worldwide.
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