Baby Steps to Accessing Online Property
Things you post on Facebook, put up on YouTube, save to your Google+ account, store in Dropbox, and many other examples concerning things you own digitally merging with your online media accounts are there for your easy access. But really, instead of posting a photo on Facebook, you will have far more property rights in the physical photo. In reality, your property you store or post online is usually only accessible by you and only you. So, if a loved one were to pass away unexpectedly everything that he or she posted to his or her Facebook account would be inaccessible to a grieving family and to everyone that isn’t the now deceased person.
Now, this is not a new problem. This issue has been the center of many court cases and angry parent letters to businesses. However, solving this issue presents new developments all the time. There are legislative and common law developments, which are usually effective and, in my opinion, the way to go to really solve this issue. But, my main interests in this area are the efforts put forth by the private companies that run websites like Facebook. The reality is that these companies don’t have to do a thing to solve it. They are private companies and have no real duty to abide the demands of their customers. Anyone remember Mansanto? But many of these companies realize that to be profitable they have to abide at least a little to keep customers. In the area of digital property access, and ultimately ownership, by a user and if needed, the family of a deceased user, companies like Facebook have taken some steps, albeit tiny steps giving away the minimal amount of rights and abilities they can.
Staying with Facebook, they first allowed what they call profile memorialization. That gives a Facebook user the ability to have their profile stay active after their death. This allows family members and friends to continue to remember and honor the persons life through posts they can post on the memorialized profile. That was a good step but allowed no one to ever actually access the contents of the account or ever even log in to it. Recently, Facebook took another step in the right direction by allowing a user to appoint a “legacy contact” for your account that would take effect after your death.
A legacy contact is a person that the Facebook user appoints who will generally be able to handle the deceased’s profile after their death. Specifically the legacy contact can download a copy of what the passed on user shared on Facebook, respond to new friend requests of the deceased, and update the deceased’s profile picture and cover photo. But that’s it! The legacy contact cannot read or download messages the deceased sent to friends or photos that automatically synced with Facebook but didn’t post, change items on the deceased’s timeline, log in to the account, or removed any friends.This new development of appointing a legacy contact is a step in the right direction, although a very small one. I hope to see more steps in this direction and ultimately see things like a person’s Facebook profile become their property entirely, much like a person would own a comb or a pair of shoes.