I had a shock last week, when LinkedIn suggested I might like to connect with a friend who had, sadly, passed away three years ago. David and I had worked together for several years and become friends before he eventually succumbed to cancer.
On seeing his name on my screen, my first thought was for David’s family and close friends who also have LinkedIn accounts. How many of them must have had a similar experience over those years, and how distressing must it have been? My next thoughts were how much longer this might go on and what I could do about it.
According to LinkedIn’s comprehensive help centre, I need to complete a ‘Verification of Death’ form. So far, so good, but then comes the catch:
“This form requires an email address registered to the deceased member’s account. Without this important piece of information, we will not be able to address your request.”
Unsurprisingly, I don’t know what email address David used, all those years ago, to create his LinkedIn account. I guess this must be the case for many others in a similar situation.
My only remaining option was to appeal to the compassion and common-sense of one of the LinkedIn Customer Experience Team, which I did via their online form. That was a week ago and my only response to date has been an automated acknowledgment.
Then I looked at the approach of other social media networks to this problem.
In the event of the death of a user, Twitter offers to “work with a person authorized to act on the behalf of the estate or with a verified immediate family member of the deceased to have an account deactivated.” In order for them to process an account deactivation, they ask for all of the following:
- The Twitter account’s username
- A copy of the deceased user’s death certificate
- A copy of your government-issued ID (e.g., driver’s license)
- A signed, notarized statement including:
- Your first and last name
- Your current contact information
- Your email address
- Your relationship to the deceased user
- Action requested (e.g., ‘please deactivate the Twitter account’)
Wow. This was obviously written by a lawyer, but it must be totally OTT for 99.9% of cases and should have been rejected in favour of a more subtle and sensitive approach. Why should it be as complicated as closing a bank account? Did you have to send Twitter a copy of your birth certificate and driving licence when you opened your account? Me neither.
This information is not easy to find, but the authorised representative of a deceased user can apply for access to the contents of his Google account or/and close it. The process comprises two stages:
Part 1 is almost identical to Twitter’s. Google will review your request and notify you by email as to whether or not you will be able to progress to the next steps of the process.
Part 2 requires you to get additional legal process including an order from a U.S. court and/or submitting additional materials.
Again, this all seems rather unnecessary in the vast majority of cases. I know from experience that anyone who has suffered a bereavement would prefer to avoid these formalities and see the account closed before it causes any more distress.
Facebook’s policy is to memorialise the account of a deceased person. If you need to report a timeline to be memorialised, they invite you to contact them. Facebook say that verified immediate family members may request the removal of a loved one’s account from the site. They also ask you to contact them if a deceased person’s account is appearing in “People You May Know.” I don’t know how efficient they are in implementing this procedure, but it seems the most sensitive and personable approach of the lot, which the others might be encouraged to adopt in most cases.
So at least one social media network has what appears to be a sensible solution to the “deceased member” problem, but that’s little consolation to me.
The success of a commercial operation like LinkedIn depends largely on building its membership and, of course, it publishes these figures to stakeholders, the business community and potential advertisers. Newspaper and magazine publishers’ businesses similarly depend on circulation and readership data, which are audited independently and regularly, such information being vital to advertisers and their agents.
On 9 January, 2012, LinkedIn announced it had reached 200 million registered users worldwide, including:
- USA (74m)
- India (18m)
- UK (11m)
- Brazil (11m)
- Canada (7m)
Assuming LinkedIn’s users reflect national averages, about 60,000 of their UK members will pass away each year. When you add in duplicate accounts, lapsed and dummy accounts and corporate members that have ceased trading, it’s easy to imagine that LinkedIn’s membership claims could be overstated by several hundred thousand. I had always assumed that LinkedIn’s registered membership was audited independently, accurately and frequently – but how can that be if it is riddled with dead and dormant accounts?
So, in order to improve the accuracy of their registered membership data, LinkedIn could make a start by simplifying the removal of deceased members’ accounts and I would appreciate it very much if they could start with my friend, David’s.