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Prof advocates digital forgetfulness, calls Google 'Soviet'

But can't quite remember why

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Mayer-Schoenberger proposes that the digital world should move "from remembering forever to forgetting over time." Being a software entrepreneur with a bunch of law degrees, it's perhaps unsurprising that he suggests that this be achieved "with a combination of law and software".

The professor sees many benefits in requiring all software to be written so as to forget things rather than remember them.

"Google and other search engines may have to change their practices," he says. "No longer would they be able to store search queries forever."

There's more. "Amazon would have to adjust," he writes, and theorises that customers could "perhaps experience surging accuracy in Amazon's recommendations. After all, whose literary preferences stay constant over years?"

Cookies, mobile phone call records, surveillance-camera footage - all would automatically delete themselves in the medium-to-short term.

The professor seems to yearn for a happier old-school style of information recording. "In the world of post-its and napkins, the default of forgetting...or at least losing...is quite obviously built in," he says wistfully.

"My proposal aims to reintroduce the concept of forgetting over time."

Again, a slight linguistic struggle is required to avoid saying something like "we need to remember how to forget stuff".

The full paper is available here (pdf). Presumably it will be set to delete itself shortly, so get it while you can.

Professor Mayer-Schonberger sums up by reminding us of the critical need for a "fundamental shift from remembering to forgetting that is so central to our society's fundamental values."

And don't you forget it. ®

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