Feeds

Prof advocates digital forgetfulness, calls Google 'Soviet'

But can't quite remember why

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

A Harvard professor has published a paper in which he suggests that revolutions in data storage, search, and other information technologies are creating a "panoptic society", in which everything is being watched and, worse, everything which is recorded is preserved and accessible forever.

Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger, associate professor at Harvard's John F Kennedy school of government, says on his webpage that he "holds a bunch of law degrees, including one from Harvard". Prof Mayer-Schoenberger was also a 1991 "Top-5 Software Entrepreneur in Austria".

In his paper Useful Void: The Art of Forgetting in the Age of Ubiquitous Computing, Prof Mayer-Schoenberger mounts a trenchant attack on the modern tendency to record, store, and index everything. Unsurprisingly, he seems to have a particular grump on with the world's favourite search engine.

"In March 2007, Google confirmed that since its inception it had stored every search query every user ever made and every search result she ever clicked on," writes the professor. "Google remembers forever."

Funnily enough, another organisation with a similar policy was the old-school KGB. The Soviet secret policemen would stamp хранить вечно (to be preserved forever) on the dossiers of political prisoners.

"Like the Soviet state, Google does not forget," says Mayer-Schoenberger.

The professor suggests that the human race has "unlearned" or "lost the capacity" to forget things (he struggles desperately to avoid saying that we have forgotten how to). He doesn't really explain why this is a bad thing, but he does note that:

"If whatever we do can be held against us years later, if all our impulsive comments are preserved...our words and actions may be perceived years later and taken out of context...the lack of forgetting may prompt us speak less freely and openly."

Such considerations don't seem to be bothering some folks in the blogosphere, to name just a few hundred thousand. But the professor isn't bothered about mouthy online ranters.

"Regardless of other concerns we may have, it is hard to see how such an unforgetting world could offer us the open society that we are used to today," he says.

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
Lords take revenge on REVENGE PORN publishers
Jilted Johns and Jennies with busy fingers face two years inside
Yes, yes, Steve Jobs. Look what I'VE done for you lately – Tim Cook
New iPhone biz baron points to Apple's (his) greatest successes
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
Ex-US Navy fighter pilot MIT prof: Drones beat humans - I should know
'Missy' Cummings on UAVs, smartcars and dying from boredom
Facebook pays INFINITELY MORE UK corp tax than in 2012
Thanks for the £3k, Zuck. Doh! you're IN CREDIT. Guess not
Sysadmin with EBOLA? Gartner's issued advice to debug your biz
Start hoarding cleaning supplies, analyst firm says, and assume your team will scatter
Edward who? GCHQ boss dodges Snowden topic during last speech
UK spies would rather 'walk' than do 'mass surveillance'
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.