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Alexander: Who controls your Facebook page if you die?

  • Article by: STEVE ALEXANDER
  • Star Tribune
  • January 24, 2012 - 4:41 PM

QMy daughter, who passed away on Aug. 10, 2011, was a very active Facebook member. My husband and I were leaving her page open and were managing her account with her password.

But my niece contacted Facebook without obtaining permission from us, and requested that my daughter's Facebook page be placed in memorial status. She was able to do this without knowing my daughter's Facebook password; Facebook just told her to submit a copy of my daughter's obituary.

Now our family and my daughter's friends can no longer tag themselves in my daughter's photos, and the only way they can see anything placed on her page is to go to the actual page itself to see the memories of my daughter that are posted there.

Facebook claims to be all about the security and privacy of their users. So why would they let just anyone without a password request to change another Facebook user's account?

I have contacted Facebook twice about this situation and all I received was an automated response that once a page has been placed in memorial status it cannot be changed back. What can we do?

RICK AND PAM MURPHY, EAGAN

AI'm sorry for your loss.

When I tried to get an answer to your question, I also got no response from Facebook.

So I asked Jim Lamm, an estate planning and administration attorney at Minneapolis law firm Gray Plant Mooty, to explain how the law views Facebook ownership.

Lamm said the law recognizes Facebook's terms of service as a legal contract. Those terms don't allow the account of a deceased person to be transferred to a family member who has the password. Maintaining your daughter's account with her password would be considered "unauthorized access" under the law, he said.

"Facebook's policy about a user who dies gives you two options: Close the account, or leave it open as a memorial," he said.

A Facebook account in memorial status can't be altered and can't be accessed via password (see tinyurl.com/7vsysps.)

Should Facebook have allowed your niece to convert your daughter's Facebook page to memorial status? Lamm says yes, because Facebook's policy states that it doesn't need notification from a family member, and that an obituary is sufficient documentation.

However, Lamm advocates changing state laws nationwide to require online companies to respond to requests such as yours.

"It's hard to get somebody to answer the phone or an e-mail at these technology companies," Lamm said. "It would be nice to have an enforcement method."

E-mail tech questions to steve.j.alexander@gmail.com, or write to Tech Q&A, 425 Portland Av., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Include name, city and telephone number.

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