Facebook has a grave problem.
By the year 2070, dead users could outnumber living ones on the social network, with potential implications for how our digital profiles are stored, according to new research from the Oxford Internet Institute.
The researchers predict that at least 1.4 billion Facebook users will die before 2100, with the dead outnumbering the living in about 50 years, based on current user growth rates.
"These statistics give rise to new and difficult questions surrounding who has the right to 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," the study's lead author, Carl Ohman, said in a press statement.
As the study's co-author David Watson, also a student at the Oxford Internet Institute, explained in a statement: "Never before in history has such a vast archive of human behavior 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. It is also important to make sure that future generations can use our digital heritage to understand their history."
The analysis sets up two different scenarios, both of which are extremes. One assumes no user growth as of 2018, while the other assumes that Facebook continues to grow at its current rate of 13 percent globally until it reaches market saturation.
The ubiquitous social network currently has 2.3 billion monthly active users, although it has seen some slowing growth in parts of the world recently as some users disconnect over privacy concerns and others turn to different social media platforms. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said the company will pivot toward more privacy-focused communication that eventually integrates the messaging services of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram.
The predictions are based on data from the United Nations, which provided researchers with the expected number of deaths and total populations of each country in the world distributed by age, along with Facebook data from the company's Audience Insights feature.
The study's findings were published in the journal Big Data & Society.