By Dr. Mallika Marshall

BOSTON (CBS) — A new analysis from the University of Oxford predicts the number of Facebooks accounts for deceased people may outnumber the number of those for the living within 50 years. Researchers call it a “digital graveyard.”

This raises ethical and logistical questions like, who should have the right to all of the data that still live on the pages of people who have died? How should the data be managed in the interest of the deceased and their families? And should future historians be able to use this wealth of data to understand the past?

It’s is expected that 1.4 billion Facebook users from all over the world will die by the year 2100, and “in this scenario, the dead could outnumber the living by 2070,” said the study.

As you can imagine, that will leave behind a huge archive of information not only about individual people but also about human behavior and culture and how we lived our lives.

Researchers say that access to this historical data should not be limited to a single for-profit company, like Facebook, but that these companies should invite historians, archeologists, and ethicists to help determine how to curate the vast amount of data that we leave behind as we pass away.

If you want to make sure your Facebook profile doesn’t live on after you’re gone, Facebook allows you to assign a Legacy Contact. That person can, among other things, request your account be deleted.

Dr. Mallika Marshall


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