Feeds

Prof advocates digital forgetfulness, calls Google 'Soviet'

But can't quite remember why

The essential guide to IT transformation

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.

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
GCHQ protesters stick it to British spooks ... by drinking urine
Activists told NOT to snap pics of staff at the concrete doughnut
Britain's housing crisis: What are we going to do about it?
Rent control: Better than bombs at destroying housing
Top beak: UK privacy law may be reconsidered because of social media
Rise of Twitter etc creates 'enormous challenges'
Redmond resists order to hand over overseas email
Court wanted peek as related to US investigation
What do you mean, I have to POST a PHYSICAL CHEQUE to get my gun licence?
Stop bitching about firearms fees - we need computerisation
Ex US cybersecurity czar guilty in child sex abuse website case
Health and Human Services IT security chief headed online to share vile images
NZ Justice Minister scalped as hacker leaks emails
Grab your popcorn: Subterfuge and slur disrupts election run up
We need less U.S. in our WWW – Euro digital chief Steelie Neelie
EC moves to shift status quo at Internet Governance Forum
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.
Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
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.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?