German Court Rules Facebook Data Can Be Inherited

Facebook's rules mean that when someone dies their account is either memorialized and no one can log in to it or permanently deleted, but Germany's high court ruled that accounts can be inherited therefore allowing relatives access to the data.

When someone passes away, Facebook either deletes or memorializes the individual's account and it can't be accessed by anyone beyond sharing memories on the timeline. However, a recent ruling by Germany's high court may force Facebook to rethink its rules regarding these permanently locked accounts.

As Business Insider reports, the court case in question was brought by parents of a 15-year-old girl who was killed by a train back in 2012. They wanted access to her Facebook account to find out if she talked about suicide before her death, but Facebook would not allow it because the account had been memorialized.

The Federal Court of Justice sided with the parents and ruled that Facebook data, including messages, can be inherited in the same way physical diaries or letters already are. Facebook disagrees, explaining that, "Facebook accounts are used for a personal exchange between individuals which we have a duty to protect."

Facebook is currently considering the judgement before deciding what to do next, which could include opposing the ruling. If it is allowed to stand, the decision could see the rules change on the social network, at least in Germany, regarding what happens to a Facebook account when the owner dies. It's unlikely to spread to the US, but Facebook data inheritance may end up becoming a Europe-wide requirement.

Under the existing rules, Facebook allows a user to choose between permanently deleting their account or having it turned into a memorialized account when they die. If that choice isn't made before death, then the default option is to memorialize. What this means is, the profile no longer appears in any public spaces and nobody can ever log into the account again, but friends can share memories on the account's timeline depending on the privacy settings.

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