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What happens to our online lives after we die?

SEATTLE—Over the course of the next few decades, there will be more and more dead people on Facebook. In fact, according to some estimates, as early as 2060 the number of deceased user accounts will exceed the number of accounts with a living person behind them.
 But people’s “digital afterlives” extend far beyond Facebook. When a 21st-century citizen dies, they often leave behind a trove of posts, private messages, and personal information on everything from Twitter to online bank records. Who owns this data, and whose responsibility is it to protect the privacy of the deceased? Faheem Hussain, a social scientist at Arizona State University, Tempe, has spent the past few years peering into the murky waters of how people, platforms, and governments manage the digital lives we leave behind.

Hussain gave a presentation on our digital legacies today at the annual meeting of AAAS, which publishes Science. We caught up with Hussain to talk about why online platforms should encourage people to plan ahead for death, whether you have a right to privacy after you die, and the strange new culture of digital mourning.


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