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Illinois Prof Calls for a Federal Law To Safeguard Digital Afterlives 82

An anonymous reader writes "A new paper from Professor Jason Mazzone at the University of Illinois calls for federal laws to regulate what happens to digital accounts after the account holder's death. Mazzone argues that Facebook and other online services have policies for deceased users' accounts that do not adequately protect the individual property and privacy interests at stake. The full text of the paper (called "Facebook's Afterlife") is also available: "
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Illinois Prof Calls for a Federal Law To Safeguard Digital Afterlives

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  • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Friday September 28, 2012 @11:09PM (#41496511)

    And I mean, comprehensive deletion.

    Outside of nefarious uses, the information of a dead person is of no pactical value to facebook or its advertising customers. Dead people don't buy anything.

    As such, it is a cost center to retain the information of dead people. They should eliminate all such data, to keep a high relevancy with thir advertising customers, and avoid having stale and inaccurate data to sell.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 28, 2012 @11:14PM (#41496553)

    Why does everyone think there needs to be some Federal mandate regulating every single damn issue imaginable?

    The reason why we have so many big corporations with no competition is because the regulations prevent any new competition from coming in.

    The *last* thing we need is more Federal Laws!!!

  • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Friday September 28, 2012 @11:23PM (#41496595)

    Quite right. I do that too.

    (Ignore social networking, and run a local fileserver on a nonstandard port)

    Sadly, many ISPs, mine included, simply do not like the basic idea behind the internet, and are very displeased when they discoveer people with consmer accounts hosting servers, even puny ones with essentially no traffic, like mine. Many even actively attempt to frustrate such efforts.

    Such is the world it seems.

  • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Friday September 28, 2012 @11:24PM (#41496599)

    And yet, grieving relatives are likely susceptible targets for all sorts of different advertising that can still be targeted at them based on inferred interests they may share with the deceased. Call me cynical, but I'm sure they can come up with plenty of business reasons for keeping around data on a deceased person. Not only that, but they need to ensure that there are adequate safeguards in place to prevent deletions from occurring prematurely, such as an ex using private information to signal that you are dead, otherwise they may open themselves up to all sorts of problems if they go around deleting user information.

  • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Friday September 28, 2012 @11:27PM (#41496613)

    Outside of nefarious uses, the information of a dead person is of no pactical value to facebook or its advertising customers. Dead people don't buy anything.

    But their shopping habits can still be used to predict what the living will buy.

    To me the bigger question is things like the ownership of games on steam, your magic the gathering online card collection, your MMO account, and so forth. These things have value, and the parasitic EULA's claiming you don't have ownership of anything while the main sites flog you to "buy! buy! buy!"notwithstanding its clear that the survivors will often have a very real interest in these things. My kids have characters on my MMO account. My entire family plays my steam games. I never got into MTGO precisely because of the ephemeral nature of the cards... but lots of other people do have valuable collections.

    If anything we should have laws to ensure this stuff does get passed to the survivors without hassle.

  • No! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <> on Friday September 28, 2012 @11:44PM (#41496675)

    I don't want my Facebook deleted in the event of my death! My friends would lose all of the photos I posted of them! And all the comments and links and everything I posted on their timelines. And what if they want to come back years later and reminisce about old times. There are lots of reasons living customers might want to look at the information. Wouldn't it be better to freeze the account?

  • Death, pshaw. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 29, 2012 @12:18AM (#41496793)

    Had a friend who commented heavily on my photos. We had a number of back and forth conversations.

    He then deleted his Facebook account because Facebook is clearly evil, and Google totally isn't.

    He's since come back to Facebook, and I've re-friended him, however:

    It still looks like I'm a freaking schizo, because half the comments on my photos appear to be me talking to myself.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 29, 2012 @12:24AM (#41496811)

    "I don't want my Facebook deleted in the event of my death!"

    And if your friends don't want their photo kept after your death? What if they want to forget you? What if they want to move on? What would you have, a friends list and a dead friends list, and watch the dead friends list get longer and longer, and the friends list get shorter and shorter?

    Facebook: Bobby5765 had died, we've automatically moved him to the dead friends list.

    1 year later,

    Facebook: Bobby5765 died one year ago, why not come visit his page, he'd have liked that.

    2 months later
    Facebook: Was Bobby5765's using his real name?

    3 months later
    Facebook: Did Bobby5765 have any relatives? Why not connect with them by selecting them from his contacts list below.

    4 months later
    Facebook: Bobby5765's friends indicated you're his son, we're sorry for your loss, why not remember Bobby5765 by visiting old photographs of him.

    Moving on is important. What you want done with YOUR digital data after your death should be an account choice you make, not another data mining opportunity for Facebook. Default should be 'delete after 6 months'. Then your friends can archive anything they want on their site or computer.
    What I don't want to see, is Facebook milking dead relatives for marketing purposes.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 29, 2012 @12:49AM (#41496871)

    My mother died last year, and since she never told anyone her Facebook password, her account is still open.

    Personally, I'm glad Facebook hasn't auto-deleted it. Family and friends still post to her wall on holidays, and her birthday, etc. Of course, she will never see these messages, but it makes the rest of us happy to be able to leave these messages, and to be able to still read her posts.

    It's like a "gone, but not forgotten" type of thing.

  • by Kleen13 ( 1006327 ) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @01:03AM (#41496915)
    It was Facebook that really got my Mom into this whole "Computer thing". Since she passed, we have used her account as a hub for pictures, gatherings, and contacts. I see the point of eventually deleting her account, but it was surprising how many images and data that was singularly relevant to my family that was on her account that isn't recorded elsewhere... I would never have known the depth of her digital involvement if I didn't review her account. It's been priceless for my family. My two cents.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 29, 2012 @01:33AM (#41497005)

    Paypal has gone to great lengths to not legally be a bank. At a bank, or brokerage firm, or other places that I park money in, they have all given me a form to declare a beneficiary. Does Paypal do that?

    Generally, in the State of California (and many/most? other states), unclaimed accounts in banks, ets, are turned over to the state. I found a few thousand dollars in insurance payments (I'm a doctoid), some going back 20 years.

    Also, once someone dies, bank accounts etc. are frozen (or should be) to new deposits. I once bought something on ebay, turned out to be defective. I tried contacting the seller; no response. (This was circa 2001-2, btw). A few months later I found the seller's address. So I wrote a nice complaint letter. Shortly after I received a refund from the seller's husband. He wife had died. She did a lot of ebay, and he had no idea how to use a computer.....

    Heck, my heirs may not even know I have a Paypal account, or care. Or an Amazon account, for sellers. $$ is disbursed to a checking account. What if the checking account is closed, and Amazon's disbursement gets bounced back?

    Okay, I know there are some /.-ers out there, the anti-government Libertarian, of which I feel some affinity too, who would say the worse evil is letting governments get their greedy hands on such funds. Except, I can imagine a situation in the corporations get to keep such fund in the event a person dies, maybe with an up front death benefit choice combined with a perk> you will get 0.5% more interest if you make Big Bank you beneficiary. But, Big Bank sends hit-men out on a few customers every now and then.

    I can also imagine a government doing that, just much less likely than a corporation doing it.

    end of rant

  • by Instine ( 963303 ) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @08:03AM (#41497975)
    I can't tell you how important my late wife's facebook account is to me. It is betond money. I realize I'm not 'entitled' to it. And that one day it will die too. Maybe at the hands of a troll (they already hacked her twitter acc to do pharma spam). Or a data center outage. Or a change in policy. Whatever. Nothing is for ever.

    But for the time it is there, it is greater than any scrap book, photo album or other personal treasure. Neither of us care greatly about advertisers using the data. It is a detailed, personal record of the happiest time I'm ever likely to have. So deletion would not get my vote! If it were deleted I would certainly want to download a copy first. I know I'm not entitled to it, but again, it's what I'd want...

Loose bits sink chips.