Feeds

Prof advocates digital forgetfulness, calls Google 'Soviet'

But can't quite remember why

The Power of One Brief: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

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.

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

More from The Register

next story
Adam Afriyie MP: Smart meters are NOT so smart
Mega-costly gas 'n' 'leccy totting-up tech not worth it - Tory MP
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
'Blow it up': Plods pop round for chat with Commonwealth Games tweeter
You'd better not be talking about the council's housing plans
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
ONE EMAIL costs mining company $300 MEEELION
Environmental activist walks free after hoax sent share price over a cliff
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.