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Technology & Innovation

Should Information Have an Expiration Date?

With so much information being stored in Web databases around the world, data now created will potentially stay recorded in the memory cloud forever. That’s why Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, Director of the Information Innovation Policy Research Center at the National University of Singapore says he wants to “revive the art of forgetting” by putting expiration dates on Web data.

“The importance is that by entering or having to enter an expiration whenever we store something, we are reminded … of the importance that information is not timeless, but it is connected to a particular context in time and loses it’s value over time,” says Mayer-Schönberger. “Most information does and so by setting expiration date, we really link time with information, something that biologically we cannot do.”

In his Big Think interview, Mayer-Schönberger spoke at length about how the concept of  “perfect digital memory” is changing the way we behave. “We have to face the fact that what we say and do online today will not only be viewed by the hundreds of millions of people that are online today, but might be viewed and interpreted differently by people and institutions 10 years, 20 years, 30 years down the road when we are no longer young and we might not be as engaged in public discourse and protests any more, but we might want to apply for a well-paid investment banker’s job.”

He also talked about an “eGovernment revolution”, saying we currently don’t have enough access to the processes of and information government, “We as a society have a right to know better what the government is doing, to engage with the government and to have a government in place that is willing and able to use the technological tools available to engage us citizens.” He says that this is currently not happening—or not happening at a sufficiently high level—leaving us “in this old-fashioned mode of thinking about transaction efficiency and user-friendliness.”