Death and the internet

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When people die, they leave certain things behind, including all their online profiles, email accounts, and social media information. While some sites, including Facebook and Twitter, have policies related to death, accounts often remain dormant until deleted due to inactivity or family or friends take action. As the internet age progresses it will come to a point where inactive accounts of deceased people will outnumber those of active users;[1] all providers of digital services will need to provide specific policies and accounts' management tools.


Gmail[2] and Hotmail[3] allow the email accounts of the deceased to be accessed, provided certain requirements are met. Yahoo! Mail will not provide access, citing the No Right of Survivorship and Non-Transferability clause in the Yahoo! terms of service.[4] In 2005 Yahoo! was ordered by the Probate Court of Oakland County, Michigan to release emails of deceased US Marine Justin Ellsworth to his father, John Ellsworth.[5]


Facebook's policy on death is to turn the deceased user's profile into a memorial, "as a place where people can save and share their memories of those who've passed."[6] Memorializing of a profile involves: the deceased user no longer showing up in the "Suggestions" box on the right-hand side of the homepage; the privacy setting is altered so that only confirmed friends can view the profile and search for it; contact information and status updates are removed; no one is able to log into the account in the future.[7] Deletion of an account entails the complete removal of the deceased user's data from the online platform, however Facebook holds the legal right to sustain the user's credentials for up to 90 days after request of deletion.[8]

In order to memorialize deceased person's account, a special contact form must be filled out. In this contact from, a proof of death must be provided, such as an obituary or news article. Both family members and non-family members are allowed to submit this form.


Dropbox does not have a specific policy for accounts of deceased people; the general Terms of Service[9] applies, it states that inactive accounts will be deleted after 90 days since the last login.


In April 2013, Google announced the creation of the 'Inactive Account Manager', which allows users of Google services to set up a process in which ownership and control of inactive accounts is transferred to a delegated user.[10][11]

Google also allows users to submit a range of requests regarding accounts belonging to deceased users.[12] Google can work with immediate family members and representatives to close online accounts in some cases once a user is known to be deceased, and in certain circumstances may provide content from a deceased user’s account.


MySpace will allow a memorial to be set up to honor deceased users.


Upon request, Twitter can close accounts and provide archives of public Tweets for deceased users. Family members are required to submit a formal request to Twitter's Trust and Safety department. You must have a copy of the death certificate or they will not take action despite obituary articles and news clips. This has changed and now Twitter only allows account deactivation for the deceased.[13]


Users who have made at least several hundred edits or are otherwise known for substantial contributions to Wikipedia can be noted at a central memorial page. Wikipedia user pages are ordinarily fully edit-protected after the user has died, to prevent vandalism.[14]


YouTube grants access to accounts of deceased persons under certain conditions.[15] It is one of the data options that you can select to give access to a trusted contact with Google's Inactive Account Manager.[16]

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