Users' Content After Death

I just saw a user’s comment that indicated a wish that in the event of death all of that person’s content stay on the iNaturalist site. What automatically does happen to the content on the site if a user passes away?

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as far as I know, nothing happens to the content, except that sometimes family members will delete accounts without knowing that the original user would not want it deleted.

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A few earlier threads.

Not dead, but deleted accounts and obs and IDs unhappen
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/the-vanishing-of-a-fellow-inatter/38221
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/dealing-with-account-deletion/93

https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/handling-top-identifier-status-for-deceased-inatters/28384

And this
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/deceased-observers-and-a-deceased-symbol-on-their-icon/642/68

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Check other topics about accounts after death, nothing happens, but for some law reasons you also can’t make the account frozen or something.

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Since this question comes up fairly frequently, and likely will even more as time passes, I wonder if iNat and its attorney(s) would be willing to answer some basic questions:

  1. As a matter of principle (assuming all legal hurdles cleared), is iNat willing to become the legal custodian of someone’s account after their death? (Under whatever conditions work for iNat - voluntary, passive only, no further account maintenance, etc…). Only if yes, proceed to the next question:

  2. What standard of evidence/proof would be required by iNaturalist to verify that an account belongs to a particular person? Assuming that is possible to fulfill,

  3. Can the attorney(s) come up with some general, suggested language (with disclaimers like not legal advice, consult your own attorney, etc.) that one could start with in trying to create a provision in one’s will to legally transfer custody?

Whatever the answers to these questions may ultimately be, I think they would go a long way toward settling this recurring question.

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Some relevant info from a previous feature request:

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Surely it would be simple (legally and procedurally) for iNaturalist to provide an option to prevent an account from being removed. I mean, for the user to state that the account must not be removed no matter what. iNaturalist wouldn’t have to curate or manage it, just leave it alone like any other abandoned accout.

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It seems to me this scenario could be easily solved by having a setting that users could set, asking them if they want their account deleted, frozen, or passed to the authority of someone else.

I’d imagine most personal users would want their account frozen (I would probably want this) but I could also imagine that people who create an account associated with an organization or institution or even family or small group of people, could want it passed on to someone else.

I’d imagine few users would want their account deleted, but it makes sense to allow people this choice if that’s really what they want.

Giving users the choice seems the only good way to do this. It might make sense to prompt users to make the choice at a specific point in time, say, past a certain threshold of observation, so that the signup process can still be streamlined and easy, but so that any accounts with a lot of data have the setting manually set.

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As staff said, it’s not possible for legal reasons, it’s not as easy to prove you own the account.

This makes no sense if the user specifies their wishes up-front, when they still are alive, which is what I was suggesting.

If you can’t trust that the person controls their account to begin with, then there are more serious problems here, because iNaturalist is publishing all sorts of legally-relevant things, like releasing their photos under licenses that the user specified.

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It makes sense and they did contact the lawyer for that, there’s too much room for possible errors and bad things happening, iNat doesn’t want such problems in the future, your account after your death is practically frozen.

To be clear, iNat doesn’t remove accounts or content due to the death of the user (as others have said, outside of edge cases where we personally knew the user, we don’t have any legal way to verify that a deceased person owned a specific account). Pretty much the only reasons we remove content are if it’s obscene, racist, machine generated, copyright infringement, or made by a sockpuppet account.

We’d have to make sure it was signed legally, so that’s one hurdle. Second would be determining that the user has in fact passed away.

For what it’s worth, here’s Flickr’s In Memoriam page, and Facebook’s Memorialization Request page. They request material like death certificate, obituary, etc… As to how they evaluate the request, I don’t know. But when we discussed the issue with our lawyers, it was decided that we don’t have the resources to make these investigations and determinations as part of a standard feature. If next of kin do want to contact us, however, they can and we’ll see what we can do from there.

I wish there was a better solution but at the moment there isn’t.

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