More than 16 million Australians are active on Facebook, but it seems likely that less than a third know that the popular social website owns what they post.
Two major educational institutions in Adelaide, Charles Sturt University and the University of Adelaide, asked 1,000 adults what they thought happened to their online content after they died, or became disabled, and 71% said they had no idea.
Professor Adam Steen, from Charles Sturt University, told the ABC that many people don't even know all their “digital assets”. This can include emails, social media accounts, photos and videos, but also government data like medical records and banking records.
The survey found most Australians owned multiple digital assets, with only 18% of those surveyed saying they had none.
The ownership of your digital content is described in the lengthy user agreements you sign when setting up an account. However, according to one US study, it would take the average internet user 76 days to read all the terms and conditions they agreed to each year.
Even ownership is not clear. When you buy music from iTunes, for example, you are only renting it, not owning it. You cannot pass it on to someone else in a will, as you could with CDs or vinyl records.
What happens to each account depends on the service, which all vary.
Facebook has three options.
You can name someone as a “legacy contact”, allowing them to write a post to remain at the top of your profile, update your profile photo, and respond to friend requests.
You can set the account to delete everything once Facebook is informed of your death.
Your page can be “memorialised”, frozen in time for as long as Facebook exists.
Google allows up to 10 people to be executors of your account once you die, or your account becomes inactive.
Twitter allows a “verified immediate family member” to delete your account if they can prove you have died.
On LinkedIn, Snapchat, Tumblr, family members can request the account to be deleted.