Protection of 'digital afterlives' needed?

Sept. 26, 2012 at 4:19 PM
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill., Sept. 26 (UPI) -- Federal laws are needed to regulate social networking sites to give users the right to determine what happens to their "digital afterlives," a U.S. expert says.

Jason Mazzone, a University of Illinois expert in intellectual property law, says allowing social networking sites to set policy regarding the content of accounts of deceased users does not adequately protect individual and collective interests, especially with people spending an increasing part of their lives online using social networking sites.

"Virtually no law regulates what happens to a person's online existence after his or her death," he said in a university release Wednesday. "This is true even though individuals have privacy and copyright interests in materials they post to social networking sites.

"Social networking sites determine on their own what, if anything, to do with a deceased user's account and the materials the user posted to the site.

"It's a little bit like letting the bank decide what to do with your money after you die."

A federal statute could impose some requirements on social networking sites to give users a degree of control over what happens to their accounts, he said.

"It's really pretty astonishing that there is no way for individual users to say, 'When I die, this is what happens to my account,'" he said. "Instead, it comes under the control of Facebook."

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