thoughts and observations of a privacy, security and internet researcher, activist, and policy advisor

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Privacy, Forgetting and Information Ecology

I am at the re:publica conference in Berlin this week, just listening to Viktor Mayer-Schönberger's keynote on forgetting and remembering. His speech is about "information ecology", and he reminds us that in human history, forgetting has always been the norm, while remembering was the exception that took an effort and was costly. This is changing with computers and hard drives, creating new problems in terms of privacy and out-of-context judgements based on outdated information. He is suggesting an expiry date for personal information. Read his full argument here.

A similar idea was developed by the Identity Futures Working Group last year. If forgetting is so difficult nowadays, we should at least display which information is older and may therefore be less relevant:
The Older Posts By And About People Appear More ‘Aged’ When Viewed. 2010±. It is now the norm for ‘digital aging’ to be visually displayed on documents as they age. Usenet posts from 20 years ago although still viewable have a grey age spots and cracks by default when first viewing them. Myspace posts from 2 years ago are yellow tinged.
Ed Felten at Freedom to Tinker has a new idea on how to create incentives for forgetting, based on the idea of a market for carbon dioxide emissions:
We all want more and bigger hard drives, but what is going to be stored on those drives? Information, probably relating to other people. The equation is simple: more storage equals more privacy invasion. That’s why I have pledged to maintain a storage-neutral lifestyle. From now on, whenever I buy a new hard drive, I’ll either delete the same amount of old information, or I’ll purchase a storage offset from someone else who has extra data to delete. By bidding up the cost of storage offsets, I’ll help create a market for storage conservation, without the inconvenience of changing my storage-intensive lifestyle.


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