Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Death and Facebook

Ok back to business as usual..

Pangloss is always pleased to see things she's been lecturing about for a year turn into reality, and here comes one again. Facebook have decided to formalise the procedures they already, to some extent had, for "memorialising" the profiles of users who have become deceased. The Grauniad reports:

"When someone leaves us, they don't leave our memories or our social network. To reflect that reality, we created the idea of 'memorialised' profiles as a place where people can save and share their memories of those who've passed," explained Max Kelly, Facebook head of security, on the company's blog.

But what does it mean, that an account gets "memorialised"? The contact information and status updates are removed, and the profile is set private. No one can log into it any more. Only Facebook friends can locate the profile via search and leave posts on the wall for remembrance."

Although neither the Guardian nor Facebook mention it, it seems likely this too is a response to the recent demand by the Canadian Privacy Commissioner that FB put their house in order. But is this really the best option, or the only alternative (as it has been presented) to deletion by default?

As Pangloss has suggested before, is it not really up to the user themselves if they wish to see their site "memorialised", or if they feel this might be mawkish and upsetting? Would it not be better and indeed simpler for FB to provide a preference switch for the user to say in advance what they want, rather than relying on the impetus of the family to make a choice on death? And what if the user leaves a wish in their will which conflicts with what the family say to FB - will anyone have an interest to intervene?

Another problem, which the Guardian has also spotted, is that FB has simultaneously rolled out a "Reconnect" feature which encourages users to get back in touch with friends they've lost touch with. From FB's company blog, one user comment exposes the problem:

"hey i don't know if you read all of these, but facebook has suggested that i "reconnect" with two friends in the last two days, both of whom died over 18 months ago. please, please, please stop this as it is disturbing and creepy."
Er, yes. Oops?

Pangloss wonders bye the bye if is coincidental these changes have been made fairly shortly after the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) when one remembers the dead and gone .. a connection recently made by Jewish Week who interviewed Pangloss a month back on this exact matter. The idea floated there that eulogy posts on FB memorialised profiles are a sort of collective post death mourning in these godless times, is an interesting and slightly scarey one. How long before FB goes 3D and starts offering an optional virtual funeral with avatars of deceased and friends? (And what adverts would they sell alongside??)

Pangloss herself is laid up right now with a bad back, by the way, and definitely feels after all this like she has one foot in the web 2.0 grave..

1 comment:

Peter Craddock said...

And now I feel even more compelled to have a set of very definite instructions regarding what people should do with my internet profiles & identities for when I shall expire…

Thanks for reporting on this!