Facebook is making it easier to plan for your online afterlife.
The world's biggest online social network said Thursday that it will now let users pick someone who can manage their account after they die. Previously, the accounts were "memorialized" after death, or locked so that no one could log in.
But Facebook says its users wanted more choice. Beginning in the U.S., Facebook users can pick a "legacy contact" to post on their page after they die, respond to new friend requests and update their profile picture and cover photo. Users can also have their accounts deleted after their death, which was not possible before.
If you want someone to manage your account after you die, click on the upside-down triangle on the top right corner of your page, open "settings" and find "security." For U.S. users there will be an option to edit your legacy contact, who must be a Facebook user. But you don't have to pick someone else to manage your account. You can also check a box to permanently delete your account when you die.
The person you choose to manage your account won't be notified of your choice until your Facebook account is memorialized. But you can send them a message before. Facebook will also send you an annual reminder of your pick. This could help if the person dies before you do, for example, or if your friendship cools as the years pass.
If you give your contact additional permission, they will be able to download and archive your photos, posts and profile information after you die. They will not be able to access your private messages. To log into your account, they will have to use their own Facebook login—they won't be able to sign in as you.
Facebook accounts are memorialized at the request of loved ones, who must provide proof of the person's death, such as an obituary. Facebook tries to ensure that the account of the dead user doesn't show up as a "suggested friend" or in other ways that could upset the person's loved ones.
Facebook, which has nearly 1.4 billion users, won't say how many accounts are memorialized, though Facebook product manager Vanessa Callison-Burch said there have been "hundreds of thousands" of requests from loved ones to do so.
Other Internet companies also offer ways to posthumously manage your accounts. On Google, a tool called "inactive account manager" lets you choose to have your data deleted after three, six or 12 months of inactivity. Or you can choose someone, such as a parent or a spouse, to receive the data. The tool covers not just email but also other Google services such as Google Plus, YouTube and Blogger.
Twitter, meanwhile, will deactivate your account if contacted by a family member or a person authorized to act on behalf of your estate, after verifying not only that you died but that the Twitter account is yours, since many people don't use their full names on the site.
Explore further: A Closer Look: Your (online) life after death