credit to InFlexwetrust

Digital Afterlife

What will happen to your online data once you log out for good? Here is the Facebook, Twitter, and Google approach.

Adam Fry-Pierce
3 min readNov 7, 2013


Just the other day I was browsing LinkedIn, and the “People you may know” section included a name that caught me off guard.

Lucas Pearson.

He’s a college friend of mine, and unfortunately, Luke passed away a few years back.

After reminiscing for a hot minute about all the good times we had in Pullman, I started to wonder how long his profile will remain active. Other questions started cropping up.

“Can anyone edit Luke’s page? If so, did they change anything? What other websites did Luke leave behind? Did Luke’s family even have a choice to remove his profile from the website?”

Some quick research answered my questions. Turns out — Facebook isn’t fully prepared to deal with this. They allow family members to make a memorial of sorts once a loved-one passes away, however, doesn’t have a system in place to share passwords. If someone provides a death certificate, Facebook will remove the page, however, only a court order can force account access. Twitter is even worse — if a family member proves death, Twitter will just delete the account.

What if I wanted my tweets to stay active?

Have no fear, a certain internet megapower is making smarter moves in this arena and now the subject is at the forefront of the global hivemind. Earlier this year, Google launched the Inactive Account Manager, a product allowing end-users to control their digital assets after death.

Here’s how it works. The Inactive Account Manager, or IAM, can be preset to delete or forward a particular user’s data if the respective account is inactive for 3, 6, or 12 months. “What if I’m just on a long holiday?” you ask? Before the IAM takes any action on your data, it will text the account holder and also send out an email to a secondary email address.

Sure — it isn’t perfect, but it’s a start to solving a growing problem that few people like to discuss.

It’s important to remember how things used to be. Not so long ago, when someone died, their friends and family would gather, remember, and perform a variety of rituals.

After a funeral, at least for most of the deceased, there wasn’t too much else to be done. Sure, the estate needed to be tended to, but that was about it. Nowadays, we almost live two lives. One here on the ground and one above in the cloud. We even have digital possessions that need sorting once we pass on. This is to say — the act of grieving hasn’t changed, but we leave much more for people to deal with once we die. Evan Carroll said it best: “the process of grieving, it seems, needs resolution and putting things away, be they digital or physical, is necessary.”

While I miss my friend dearly, his death highlights the odd nature of our online personalities. As interesting as it is to live in a tech-heavy world,it’s bizarre to think that when we die, we leave behind an incredibly large footprint, potentially connected to the internet for decades. There needs to be a clear-cut set of rules for our digital personalities after death.

With this in mind I encourage you to take a look at all the “online stuff” tied to your name. If you died tomorrow, what would the internet tell us about who you were?

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Adam Fry-Pierce

Empowering design and product leaders with connections + products. Creator of DesignOps + product ethics is on my mind. Doodler.