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Digital Inheritance
Cover Stories Series 2011> Digital Inheritance
UPDATED: November 28, 2011 NO. 48 DECEMBER 1, 2011
Policies on Users' Digital Heritage

Facebook profiles can be switched to "memorial" mode when an individual dies. Someone must submit a request for a profile to be memorialized, which deactivates certain features and resets various privacy controls, converting the profile to a site where friends can leave remembrances.

Under Twitter's Deceased Policy, which was released in August 2010, if Twitter is notified that a user has passed away, it can remove the deceased person's account or assist family members in saving a backup of his or her public Tweets. Twitter does not allow access to the account or disclose other non-public information regarding the account.

Yahoo will not grant relatives access to deceased users' accounts unless there is a court order from a judge. According to Yahoo's terms of service, its accounts are non-transferable and any rights to a user's Yahoo ID or contents within the account terminate upon their death. Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate, a user's account may be terminated and all contents therein permanently deleted.

Google says that "in rare cases," it may be able to provide the Gmail account content to an authorized representative of a deceased user, but "the application to obtain e-mail content is a lengthy process."

Hotmail requires heirs to send the company an e-mail to request the preservation of the e-mail content for a deceased user's account while heirs can gather the necessary paperwork to gain access to the account. Hotmail preserves the e-mail content for six months and deletes the account if it has not received the necessary paperwork at the end of six months.

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