R. Dinakaran , heads the Internet edition of The Hindu Business Line and writes on technology and social media.

R Dinakaran

Pictures from the dear departed

R. Dinakaran | Updated on September 19, 2013


There was an email from my friend through a picture sharing web site asking me to view the photos he had uploaded recently. What's great about that, you might ask. Yes, nothing, I agree, but there was something weird about it - my friend had died five years ago.

We all know most photo sharing sites operate in 'the cloud', but this - photos from the dead - was taking things a little bit too far. The mystery was not hard to crack. My friend was net-savvy and had accounts in almost all social and photo sharing sites. After his death, many sites kept spewing out routine emails to his friends. I was one of those.

Whose responsibility is it to check whether the 'account holder' is alive? Who should notify the web sites if someone dies? How can sites monitor whether one is alive or dead?

There are no answers.

Having accounts in social networking photo sharing sites are great, but they also end up creating akward circumstances. For instance, Facebook still urges me every year to wish one of my dead friends a 'happy birthday'.

Is there a way out? Yes. Many sites deactivate or suspend accounts if there is a prolonged period of inactivity. Sites like Facebook have better options.

Facebook offers a 'Memorialization' facility where deceased persons' timelines are memorialized. For an account to be memorialized, the deceased's friends or relatives must submit a form with proof of death. The person's name will then be memorialized.

This is what will happen once an account is memorialized (in Facebook's own words)

No one can log into a memorialized account and no new friends can be accepted

Depending on the privacy settings of the deceased person's account, friends can share memories on the memorialized timeline

Anyone can send private messages to the deceased person

Content the deceased person shared (ex: photos, posts) remains on Facebook and is visible to the audience it was shared with

Memorialized timelines don't appear in People You May Know and other suggestions

If you are not comfortable with this, Facebook also has the option of removing a person's account. Once you submit a form, along with proof that you are somehow related to the deceased, Facebook will remove the account.

This will completely remove the timeline and all associated content from Facebook, so no one can view it. Facebook says requests will not be processed if they are unable to verify your relationship to the deceased.

According to Facebook, examples of documentation that would be accepted include:

The deceased's birth certificate

The deceased's death certificate

Proof of authority under local law that you are the lawful representative of the deceased or his/her estate.

Twitter also provides a way to deactivate an account. You have to provide Twitter some or all of these to process an account deactivation.

The username of the deceased user's Twitter account (e.g., @username or twitter.com/username)

A copy of the deceased user’s death certificate

A copy of your government-issued ID (e.g., driver’s licence)

A signed statement including:

Your first and last name

Your email address

Your current contact information

Your relationship to the deceased user or their estate

Action requested (e.g., ‘please deactivate the Twitter account’)

A brief description of the details that evidence this account belongs to the deceased, if the name on the account does not match the name on death certificate.

A link to an online obituary or a copy of the obituary from a local newspaper (optional)

Please send us the documentation by fax or mail to the following address:

Twitter, Inc.

c/o: Trust & Safety

1355 Market St., Suite 900

San Francisco, CA 94103

Fax : 1-415-865-5405

Surprisingly the page does not provide a form or email ID, but says: "We conduct all of our communication via email; should we require any other information, we will contact you at the email address you have provided in your request. " The only email address provided is privacy@twitter.com

What about the great Google? It goes a step ahead, and provides an 'Inactive Account Manager' option in YOUR settings, so that YOU can let Google know what to do with your account when you kick the bucket. It works like this:

Timeout period

You set a timeout period, after which your account can be treated as inactive. The timeout period starts with your last sign-in to your Google account.

Alert Me

Inactive Account Manager will alert you via text message and optionally email before the timeout period ends.

Notify Contacts and Share Data

Add trusted contacts who should be made aware that you are no longer using your account. You can also share data with them if you like.

Optionally delete account

If you wish, instruct Google to delete your account on your behalf.

In short, you can decide what Google should do with your account after a specified period of 'inaction'. Google will alert you (in case you have just forgotten to log in for a long time) that your account will be deleted so that you can log in and prevent it from happening.

Do you feel there should be one site that does it all instead of logging in to separate sites? Yes, there are also sites that help you in doing all this. Keep watching this blog.

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Published on September 19, 2013
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