Facebook's Legacy Contact Timeline

Facebook is giving users a way to control their profiles after they die.

The feature announced today lets people choose a legacy contact; a family member or friend who can manage their account when they pass away. The feature is launching in the US first and then rolling out to other countries.

The designated contact will be able to access the account after Facebook receives notification of the person’s death. The contact can then write a post to display at the top of the memorialized timeline, respond to new friend requests from people not yet connected to the deceased’s account and update the profile picture and cover photo.

Users will be able to give their designated legacy contact access to download an archive of posts and photos. However, legacy contacts will not be able to see the deceased’s private messages. Alternatively, users can also opt to have their Facebook account deleted upon their death.

“By talking to people who have experienced loss, we realized there is more we can do to support those who are grieving and those who want a say in what happens to their account after death,” read the Facebook blog post.

Selecting a legacy contact is completely optional. If a person passes away and no heir has been chosen, Facebook will continue with their current memorialization process. That is, they will freeze the person’s account and leave posts and pictures at the privacy settings they have set. This allows for the account to be viewed but not managed.

How is being a legacy contact different from just logging into someone’s account after they’ve passed away? The major difference is that the legacy contact can’t change what’s already in posted on the profile. For example, they wouldn’t be able to edit any existing status updates or take down any photos. They won’t be able to delete the account, either.

If you live in the US, you can enable a legacy contact by visiting the security settings either on the Facebook website or the mobile app. Those of us in Canada – and other countries – will have to wait until it’s rolled out further.

It should be noted that Facebook isn’t the first tech company to give users the option of deciding what to do with their account upon their death. In 2013, Google introduced “Inactive Account Manager” which lets users decide what will happen to their Gmail messages and data from other Google services should the person’s account become inactive. And last year, Yahoo Japan introduced “Yahoo Ending” which sends out digital farewell messages to loved ones, and scrubs all personal data from the company’s system.

Thinking about what will happen to your digital data upon your death can seem a bit morbid, but with so much of our lives being lived online, it’s become necessary to think of your digital assets just like you do your physical ones.

Top Photo Courtesy of Facebook