Who Owns Online Data of the Dead?

Saturday, July 20, 2013
(graphic: deceasedonline.com)

After someone dies, do online companies and social media own a person’s stored information? These Internet operations like to think they do, and cite federal law to back up their claims.


This information can include bank account details, email records, photographs and videos, passwords, shopping accounts and even music playlists.


In 1986, Congress adopted the Stored Communications Act, which online businesses say prohibits them handing over data to a deceased person’s heirs or estate. The law, they claim, even disregards the legality of written instructions from someone asking for the data to be released.


Not all Internet companies follow the same policy, however.


“Some require a legal executor to make a request, while others honor requests from anyone who can prove a family connection or even a link to an online obituary,” The Economist reported.


Facebook limits requests to either removing a person’s account or converting it to memorial site. Twitter will at most deactivate an account, but won’t allow relatives to access the deceased’s account.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Who Owns your Data when you're Dead? (The Economist)

What Happens When We Die: Estate Planning of Digital Assets (by Maria Perrone, Commlaw Conspectus) (pdf)


Leave a comment