Only 25% Of Social Media Users Consider Their Digital Assets

Research has indicated that 33% of the world’s adult population have a social media account of some description, yet few have considered the implications of what happens to their online data after they die.

Facebook alone has around 2.27 billion members with more than 1.4 billion set to die by 2100. Despite these figures, only a quarter of Facebook’s active users have officially indicated what they would like to happen to their account after they die.

The issue made national news this weekend following the announcement that a number of grieving parents have been denied access to their deceased child’s Facebook accounts.

Whilst Facebook is the only social media site allowing users to make their digital legacy decisions before they die, this grieving contingent of parents are calling for a change in the law to ensure that their children’s data is returned to the family, similarly to their physical belongings, post death.

Facebook users over the age of 18 now have the opportunity of appointing a legacy contact who will have the opportunity to make a final post on the deceased’s page. Following this, the profile will either be deactivated or converted into a ‘memorial’ account.

Facebook have claimed that this protects the data of the deceased and prevents further distress to friends and relatives as users are unable to post posthumously.

However, legacy settings are not the same for users under the age of 18. Parents are calling for full guardianship access for any deceased user’s account under the age of 18.

Since the explosion of digital property over a decade ago, issues of digital ownership after death have been extremely contentious. In the American case of re Scandalios (2017-2976/A N.Y. Surr. Ct. 2019), electronic and digital titans, Apple, were ordered to allow a grieving husband access to his deceased husband’s Apple account.

Under the terms and conditions to Apple’s iCloud, they claim that “any rights to your Apple ID or content within your account terminate upon your death.”

When Ric Swezey passed away, he had failed to consider his digital presence when making his Will. This inadvertently restricted his husband’s (Nicholas Scandalios) access to the extensive collection of photographs of their life together.

The potentially landmark ruling divided digital assets between what it considers electronic communication and non-electronic communication. Electronic communication would only be legally passed on to executor’s through the permission of the deceased in a legitimate Will.

However, the court found that photographs are not a form of communication. They were taken and stored using the ease of which the technology allowed. The photographs were therefore released by the court.

Even the transient world of digital and tangible property have been overlooked by the majority of Wills in recent years. Recent data by Topcashback has emphasised that British shoppers have accumulated the annual equivalent of £5.7 billion in loyalty points from high street retailers.

This total, if divided between the customers involved with Britain’s five largest loyalty schemes, adds up to an impressive £122 per loyalty member.

Although passing on your supermarket loyalty points may not be a priority when going through the grieving process, the businesses offering digital loyalty schemes are developing their policies to consider the points and how they are distributed upon death.

93% of the public are unaware that loyalty points can be passed on to a beneficiary in many cases. Because of this lack of understanding, only 5% of recipients over 55-years-old have mentioned them in their Wills.

The recent claims by grieving parents emphasise the need for both online operators and users to rethink the way they approach their posthumous policies. Users of social media also need to consider their Wills and the content they perceive as pertinent for inclusion in the future. Failing to consider communication data and who will inherit it after a death could mean that it is lost indefinitely.

Michael Smoult, of Gorvins, said:

“Many people don’t think about making a will until factors in their life change.

“The last thing on someone’s mind at a time of accident, injury or serious illness is who is going to be keeper of the Facebook account.

“But those accounts often contain treasured pictures, which can be a source of immense comfort.

“It’s one area of bequests that many people still overlook and it’s a potentially combustible state of affairs.”

A Facebook spokeswoman commented:

“We do not allow someone to log into another person’s account, even after they have died, in order to protect the security and privacy of the deceased person’s information.

“We understand there could be a valid legal reason to access the account and in those instances we work closely with the relevant authorities.”

Are you dealing with more digital asset requests in Wills? Is this still an area people are forgetting to consider?