Until now, Facebook’s policy has been to freeze the accounts of users after their deaths, which risked putting it at odds with the wishes of surviving family members and friends.
The social network, starting today, is giving users the option to set up a “legacy contact,” a person who has permission to operate parts of a Facebook account in the event of the user’s death. Facebook also allows users to elect for their accounts to be deleted completely.
With the legacy contact in place, a trustee can elect to change a user’s profile picture, post a memorial message, respond to new friend requests, and download archives of previous posts and photos. The legacy contact is not able to read the contents of private messages, however.
To activate the new service on either the Facebook website or mobile app, users should go to Settings, then Security, and finally Legacy Contact, at which point they can select an existing Facebook friend. Facebook will also accept as a legacy contact any digital heir named in a user’s legal will.
Facebook is not the first company to consider the subject of what happens to our digital selves after we’ve left the physical realm. Gmail and Hotmail both allow for email accounts to be accessed by another person after the account owner’s death, so long as certain provisos are met. Other companies, such as Twitter, will only agree to close accounts (rather than have them taken over) in the event of someone’s passing.