Facebook must make accounts of deceased accessible

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What happens to the deceased’s Facebook account? The heirs may fully access it, the BGH has now decided.

The Federal Court of Justice already made it clear in July 2018: Contracts with social networks such as Facebook are inheritable. Specifically, this means that the network must enable descendants to access the user account of a deceased person. The BGH has now clarified what exactly is meant by access.

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Unstructured data is not enough

The parents of a deceased 15-year-old had sued. They wanted to read their daughter’s chat messages because they hoped it would provide clues about the circumstances of her death. After the decision of the BGH in 2018, Facebook only gave the parents a USB stick with an approximately 14,000-page PDF document, explains Christlieb Klages, the family’s lawyer. Facebook apparently believed that it had satisfied the verdict. The data was “completely unstructured”, according to Klages. That is why it was decided not to accept that and to clarify how exactly the access to a social network should look like.

The Federal Court of Justice has now given the parents the right: An unstructured PDF document does not provide adequate access to the account of a deceased person. Facebook must allow the parents direct access to the blocked account of the child so that they can “access the account and its content in the same way and wise take note […] can “, as the daughter could do, as it says in the decision, which is available to the ARD.

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It does not matter that the parents could theoretically use the daughter’s account actively. They would not be entitled to do so. But there is also no evidence that the parents wanted to do this.

Chats are just digital letters, too

The basic judgment of the Federal Court of Justice of 2018 states that, from an inheritance law perspective, digital content should not be treated differently than analog content such as diaries or letters. These can ultimately be inherited without further ado. At that time, lower courts had denied access to the parents and justified this with the privacy of the chat partners. For the BGH, however, the interests of the heirs prevailed.

You might also be interested in: Digital heritage – this is how you regulate what happens to your data after death


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