Social media researchers at Oxford Internet Institute have warned that, within the next 50 years, dead Facebook account owners may be more than living owners.

Lead author, Carl Öhman, says that, within 50 years, the social media platform will compare to a “digital graveyard,” with hundreds of millions of people.

The researchers say when this happens, there are concerns about who should lay claim to ownership of the data of the dead profile owners.

According to analysis by the Oxford Internet Institute, at least 1.4 billion Facebook members will die before year 2100. They base their conclusions on the social media platform’s 2018 membership figure.

“That means the dead could outnumber the living by 2070,” Öhman notes.

“If Facebook continues expanding, the number of deceased users could reach as high as 4.9 billion before the end of the century,” he warned.

“These statistics give rise to new and difficult questions around who has the right to all this data, how should it be managed in the best interests of the families and friends of the deceased and its use by future historians to understand the past.

“On a societal level, we have just begun asking these questions and we have a long way to go. The management of our digital remains will eventually affect everyone who uses social media, since all of us will one day pass away and leave our data behind.

“But the totality of the deceased user profiles also amounts to something larger than the sum of its parts. It is, or will at least become, part of our global digital heritage,” notes the research findings.

Co-author, David Watson, also a DPhil student at the Oxford Internet Institute, adds, “Never before in history has such a vast archive of human behaviour and culture been assembled in one place.

“Controlling this archive will, in a sense, be to control our history. It is therefore important that we ensure that access to these historical data is not limited to a single for-profit firm.”

The researchers explain that their predictions are based on data from the United Nations, which provide the expected number of mortalities and total populations for every country in the world distributed by age, and Facebook data scraped from the company’s Audience Insights feature.


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