Digital Graveyards: What They Are and How to Protect Your Legacy

HomeDigital Graveyards: What They Are and How to Protect Your Legacy

By

Rebecca Edwards

May 15, 2024

3 min read

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Need to Know from SafeWiseExpressVPN predicts nearly 700 million deceased accounts for US users by 2100.Facebook is projected to have the most deceased accounts.Fraudsters target data and identity theft from deceased accounts, too.Learn how to protect your digital legacy on the most common platforms.

Image: ExpressVPNAs social media continues to embed itself deeply into the fabric of daily life, the inevitable reality of digital afterlives is growing more prominent. A report from ExpressVPN, one our top VPN service providers, explores the burgeoning phenomenon of “digital graveyards,” where the accounts of deceased users may soon outnumber those of the living. By the year 2100, it’s projected that Facebook alone will host approximately 278.6 million profiles of deceased individuals in the US alone​​.
This unprecedented rise in posthumous digital footprints presents unique challenges and considerations, from ethical dilemmas to privacy concerns and financial burdens for social media platforms. Currently, maintaining these accounts is costly, with estimates suggesting that storing digital legacies could cost Facebook around $67 million annually by 2100—ust to store profiles of the deceased​.
In response, social media platforms are beginning to offer options for users to manage their digital legacies. For example, Facebook and Instagram allow users to choose between memorializing an account or having it deleted upon their death. A memorialized account serves as a space for friends and family to remember the deceased, whereas deletion ensures all personal data is removed permanently​.
But the issue of digital inheritance is not confined to social media. Services like Google have implemented tools like the Inactive Account Manager, which allows users to specify what should happen to their accounts after a period of inactivity.

Privacy and data protection for deceased individuals
The need to secure personal information doesn’t diminish after death. Fraudsters can exploit the digital footprints left by deceased individuals, leaving behind a mess for grieving families to deal with. There is a growing recognition of how important it is to safeguard the digital legacies of the deceased against unauthorized access and misuse.
In the US, the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) empowers individuals to appoint a Trustee or Executor to manage their digital assets. This legislation is a proactive step forward in ensuring that the digital identities of the deceased are handled respectfully and securely.

How to manage your digital legacy
Here’s what ExpressVPN reports you can do to prepare for posthumous options on different social media platforms:

Protect your Facebook account

Memorialization: Set your account to be memorialized after your passing. This makes the account a place for friends and family to gather and share memories without it appearing in public spaces.

Legacy Contact: Designate someone you trust to manage the memorialized account. They’ll be able to update profile pictures and cover photos and address new friend requests but won’t be able to access your messages.
Setup: Go to Settings > Memorialization Settings, choose Memorialize account, and select your Legacy Contact.

Account deletion: You can have your account permanently deleted upon notification of your death, erasing all data.

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Protect your Instagram profile

Memorialization: Similar to Facebook, but without a pre-selected legacy contact. Memorialization must be requested by family members posthumously with necessary documentation like a death certificate.
Account deletion: Family members can request account deletion by providing proof of death (death certificate or an obituary) and their relationship to the deceased.

Plan your legacy on X (formerly Twitter)

Active management: X does not currently offer a memorialization option. To keep your account active posthumously, ask someone to manage it (and use it regularly) and give them your login details.
Inactivity policy: Accounts not used in the last 30 days are considered inactive and may be purged.

Protect your accounts on Google (including YouTube)

Inactive Account Manager: Set up your account to notify someone or be deleted after a specified period of inactivity. This can be set for periods like three, six, 12, or 18 months.Posthumous access: Family members or legal representatives can request account closure with the necessary documentation.

Plan ahead for general digital assets

Documentation: Compile a list of all digital accounts and assets, including login details and instructions for handling them after your passing.
Digital will: Consider including digital asset information in your will or ensure a trusted person has access to it.
Direct contact for closure: Designate someone to manage the closure or transfer of accounts with required documentation.

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Written by

Rebecca Edwards

Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past decade. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime and safety reports and spotting trends. Her expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more.
You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like NPR, TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, HGTV, MSN, Reader’s Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of podcast, radio and TV clips in the US and abroad.

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