As the biggest social media platform in the world, Facebook must deal with an unprecedented set of ethical issues. That’s why the site launched a blog series called “Hard Questions,” dedicated to explaining the company’s privacy decisions to users. The most recent post in the series details how the site respects the privacy of deceased users.
According to Facebook, it’s default setting is to memorialize accounts without removing or changing anything. However, the site does allow users to designate loved ones as a so-called “legacy contact.” That means that if a user was to die, their loved ones would be able to access their profile. But Facebook must deal with even harder problems than this. For instance, if a user commits suicide, Facebook will protect the privacy of that user’s messages — even if the family wants to access them.
“Although cases like this are heartbreaking, we generally can’t turn over private messages on Facebook without affecting other people’s privacy,” wrote Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Director of Global Policy Management. “In a private conversation between two people, we assume that both people intended the messages to remain private.”
These aren’t issues that most users think about every day, but it’s a good thing Facebook is considering them — and protecting the privacy of users who no longer can.