Here’s an article that explains what can and has happened when people have died yet remained active online. I guess we should think about this and perhaps put it in our final wishes so our identity isn’t abused after we’ve left this world.

Here’s what the Guardian ‘s reported: –

Millions of people log on to social networking sites everyday, all sharing one thing in common: we’re all going to die. What will become of our online lives?

In almost every case, profiles of the dead are left suspended in mid-air, open to unmoderated comments, spam and even pornography. Today on Facebook, one such profile reads: “Andrew has no recent activity.” He died last year.

Looking at his profile, though, you wouldn’t know. You can still request to be his friend, send him a message and, of course, poke him.

Further down his page, there is a close-up of a pair of barely covered breasts. The picture, generated by the third-party application FunWall, was posted without Andrew’s consent. Other pictures and video from applications can include pictures of deformed genitals and assorted sexual acts.

Any wall comments made on Andrew’s profile appear immediately. Fortunately, the comments are all positive. But this isn’t always the case.

MySpace, the biggest social network, has made headlines when profiles of the deceased have been made public. Famously, the case of 17-year-old Joshua Anson Ballard, who in 2005 posted his own suicide note as a MySpace bulletin, revealed just how emotionally charged a remembrance profile can become.

Gone but not logged off

While MySpace users have control over who their friends are, they have less control over what their friends actually do. Phishing attacks have lead to spam comment posts from friends appearing on profiles without either user’s knowledge. Typical posts will invite people to adult sites, or to buy drugs.

Administrators say they treat death on a case-by-case basis, but there are limited options. “MySpace never deletes a profile for inactivity,” the site says. “However, if a family requests that a profile be removed we will honour their request and remove the profile in question.

“MySpace does not allow anyone to assume control of a deceased user’s profile and, as with any profile in our network, the memorial profile must abide by our terms of use.”

So, the option is either to leave a profile untouched, open to unmoderated comments, or to remove it completely.

LinkedIn, a social network for professionals, has a clear policy on user death: at the family’s request, the profile is simply removed. “We first of all offer our condolences and then proceed to close their account so their details are no longer visible to anyone,” says Cristina Hoole of LinkedIn. “Our focus is on making this process very simple for the people left behind and therefore ensure this is dealt with immediately.”

She says that there have been no instances of abuse on this system, but agrees that is probably down to LinkedIn’s more mature user base when compared to other networks.

Perhaps LiveJournal, a veteran of social networking, has it right. For deceased users, a special memorial status has been implemented, which in effect freezes the profile – but leaves it there to be enjoyed without fear of it being hijacked or spammed. The user’s friends can – if the family wishes – continue to read all the existing journal entries.

“This status is typically applied at the request of a family member,” explains Tim Smith of LiveJournal. “The support team then does its best to be reasonably sure that the person is truly deceased. Ordinarily, they get those assurances from simple things such examining the account activity or looking for comments to the journal which would be consistent with the journal owner being deceased.”

But Smith says that this isn’t an actual written policy, rather a process that has gradually emerged over time. “I wish I could point you to a formal, written policy on the site,” he adds. “But this has been a case where the practice from the support team has emerged over time more from a combination of common sense and common decency.”

Perhaps one group that could best handle a users death would be the OpenID project, which aims to provide one single login for various sites. By notifying OpenID of a user death, more than 4,000 sites, including MySpace, could be informed at once.

Online lives – and deaths

Bill Washburn, executive director of OpenID, says such a scheme would depend on the co-operation of each individual site, and believes it will take a high-profile court case to bring the issue to the web’s full attention. “There will be some set of judicial cases that get decided as to what is and isn’t necessary and appropriate,” he says.

He is concerned that the decision of what should be done with our online lives may not even be ours to make.

“We sit in a fairly unequal place with respect to what websites can do and what individuals can do on the net. And that will only get more and more attention. End users don’t fully own their identity.”

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