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The Life-to-Death Digital Continuum

June 15, 2023 |

What happens to your Facebook profile when you pass away?

The fate of our profiles and data which remain online after we die, or our digital remains, is of increasing importance as we live more of our lives online. However, policy and social norms have not caught up to the tide of technology.

Professor Michael Birnhack from Tel Aviv University’s Buchmann Faculty of Law with Dr. Tal Morse of Hadassah Academic College researched the emerging social attitudes toward digital remains with a focus on maintenance of public image and posthumous right to privacy.

Diverse focus groups of Israelis showed that most people feel data privacy conditions should stay the same postmortem: public data such as posts and photos should remain available on a given platform, private data such as text conversations should stay private, and data shared only with specific people should continue to be accessible only to those people. Participants’ reasoning included good reputation management, consent issues with sharing data, and respect for the dead. Many expressed that even private content which would paint the deceased in a good light should not be shared.

The researchers called the phenomenon of users’ desire to maintain their privacy settings the continuity principle of digital remains. Their findings were published in the journal New Media and Society and were recently presented at an international digital remains workshop hosted at TAU by the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics and the Chief Meir Shamgar Center for Digital Law and Innovation.

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