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Google Urged To Let Personal Data Fade Away

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the dust-in-the-wind dept.

Google 116

jee4all writes with this excerpt from E-week: "Researchers say personal information should 'degrade' — becoming less specific over time — to protect users' privacy. Rather than amassing personal data and holding on to it as long as legally possible, companies such as Google should allow the data to degrade over time, according to researchers. In an interview with the BBC this week, Dutch researcher Harold van Heerde discussed his work on the idea of allowing data to becomes less specific over time. Letting the specifics gradually disappear could protect consumer privacy while also meeting the needs of service providers, he said."

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Fade away? (4, Funny)

ak_hepcat (468765) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607362)

I always heard it was better to burn out...

Re:Fade away? (4, Funny)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607478)

I'm degrading over time so why not my personal data?

Re:Fade away? (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608100)

Yes, they could just use Western Digital drives, and watch the data degrade over time with no extra effort...it'll be all gone in six months, tops!

Re:Fade away? (2, Interesting)

kestasjk (933987) | more than 4 years ago | (#32609824)

Because digital data is far easier to copy and maintain over time than it is to degrade it manually.

Re:Fade away? (1)

pinkushun (1467193) | more than 4 years ago | (#32610838)

If only some memories could be as easily erased like digital data!

Re:Fade away? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32607602)

Fade away? (Score:0, Offtopic)

I always heard it was better to burn out...

I guess there's no Neil Young fans in the house tonight.

Re:Fade away? (4, Interesting)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607608)

My, my, hey, hey.

Offtopic mod for your post? I guess... but the lyrics of that song actually have some relevance.

Out of the blue [blue == anonymity]
and into the black [black == data records]
They give you this, [free services]
but you pay for that [with loss of privacy]
And once you're gone, [not using their services anymore]
you can never come back [into anonymity]
When you're out of the blue
and into the black.

Of course, I think Neil Young was referring to death and fame, not services and privacy. But the man has a real way with words.

Re:Fade away? (1)

D Ninja (825055) | more than 4 years ago | (#32609776)

Old sailors have already mastered this trick. They don't die...they just...fade away.

In related news (4, Insightful)

Bovius (1243040) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607398)

Data naturally goes stale like bread, can be fed to ducks.

All of the language around "letting data degrade" seems to imply that it would be no work, no trouble at all for Google to make this happen. Just let it get less specific, that determining the rules for gracefully removing data while maintaining integrity is the natural order of database storage.

Let them eat cake.

Re:In related news (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607494)

Let them eat cake.

Who? The public, the researcher, Google or the aforementioned ducks?

Re:In related news (2, Funny)

sortius_nod (1080919) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607730)

I don't think it's healthy to feed ducks cake...

Re:In related news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32607746)

I don't think it's healthy to feed ducks cake...

Healthy for who? The ducks or the guy who gets attacked by other ducks when he runs out of cake?

Re:In related news (5, Funny)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608110)

Wildly off topic here, but if you want something entertaining, throw an entire slice of bread (or, better, pitta bread) to the ducks. One of them will grab it whole and then swim away as fast as it can from the others. As it does, the bread will drag in the water and bits will drop off. Most of the bread goes to the ducks following it. It's entertaining to watch, and is probably a metaphor for the music industry or something.

Great idea! (3, Insightful)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607404)

While they're at it, they chould take a huge pile of cash and slowly burn it to the ground, because having things of value totally sucks. Ooh, ooh, and buy a Van Gogh and leave it out in the rain to dissolve!

I'd ask what he's smoking, but I think it's pretty obvious.

Re:Great idea! (3, Insightful)

ciaohound (118419) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607550)

take a huge pile of cash and slowly burn it to the ground

Ah, the '90's. It's hard to believe they've been gone for a whole decade already.

Re:Great idea! (3, Insightful)

angelwolf71885 (1181671) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607766)

umm didn't we just piss away a huge pile of cash in January 2009?

Re:Great idea! (1)

blai (1380673) | more than 4 years ago | (#32609768)

who's this 'we'?

Re:Great idea! (1)

angelwolf71885 (1181671) | more than 4 years ago | (#32611040)

i have a mouse in my pocket :P

Re:Great idea! (1)

Chowderbags (847952) | more than 4 years ago | (#32611742)

Yeah. I think he might have been almost nostalgic for the days when $10,000,000 turned into only $1,000,000, rather than the current 100,000,000,000 turning into 100,000 (plus or minus the CxOs golden parachutes).

Re:Great idea! (1)

yeshuawatso (1774190) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607770)

Rich. :-)

Re:Great idea! (4, Interesting)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 4 years ago | (#32609576)

I wrote a post to alt.drugs one night when I was in college in 1990. I started getting flak about it five or six years ago from one relative after another (starting with my mother) as they got on the Internet and did searches for my name. No matter what I accomplish in life, my alt.drugs post from 20 years ago stubbornly remains on the first page of Google results.

Re:Great idea! (1)

kestasjk (933987) | more than 4 years ago | (#32609844)

And the Seinfeld Kramer actor will forever be remembered as the nigger-comedian-guy, it sucks but it's not Google's fault that the stupid things people do stick.

Re:Great idea! (3, Insightful)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 4 years ago | (#32610060)

Uh, that's different. Michael Richards did something that should have struck anyone at the time as being impossible to live down. My alt.drugs post wasn't stupid (except for being in alt.drugs), not even interesting. I warned people about the low LD-50 of an over-the-counter medicine. (Lots of people now seem to think "LD-50" is a roofie or something.)

Google displays USENET posts that go back to 1981, when the future of the Internet was unforeseen by anyone. Even Nostradamus was posting pictures of his penis on the alt.binaries groups back then. None of the posts you see Google pulling up would have been written if their authors knew that Google would be proudly showing them to everyone 20, 30 years later whenever anyone searches for your name.

Re:Great idea! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32610146)

Change your name

Re:Great idea! (1)

dwye (1127395) | more than 4 years ago | (#32610460)

Are you the only person with your name? My name is fairly uncommon, yet when I google it I come up with posts or emails from at least two different people; when I was in the whois database, about a decade ago, I received email every six months or so to someone else with my name (and different someones each time, from the contents). Clearly, you should just say that someone else with your name posted to alt.drugs (unless you leaked too many details in it for it NOT to be you) once upon a time.

Alternately, go with it, and travel on the lecture circuit like Timothy Leary did ;-)

Re:Great idea! (4, Insightful)

DriedClexler (814907) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607554)

Yeah, it sounds like yet another professor blowing good money to produce a study that 4chan could debunk in an hour.

Still, it got me thinking about a sort of similar idea: instead of expecting corporations to stab themselves in the eye by degrading their data, what about using a kind of data that is designed to become less useful over time, and then, as an individual, only sharing that kind of data with businesses.

Think about it this way: why do they put your date of birth on your ID cards rather than your age? Well, duh, your age while change over time but your DOB won't. If you ever need to know someone's age, you can infer it from the current date and their DOB.

So if you gave your age to a company you're doing business with, that information becomes less useful over time because you're less likely to still be that age. (Of course, if they record the time you gave them that data, they can get pretty close, but just focus on the general concept.) Giving your age would be preferable to giving your DOB.

Similarly, telling someone where I live right now is less useful information as time goes by, as there's a chance I could have moved that increases with time. Or consider credit cards and email addresses that exist for only temporary usage.

Is it possible, then, to reformat other kinds of data so that they become less useful over time? People could feel safer giving this data to someone.

Re:Great idea! (2, Interesting)

gregrah (1605707) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608388)

There are companies that exist now whose sole purpose in life is to pull together peoples' personal information from disparate sources, combine that information into astonishingly detailed profiles of just about anyone in the United States, and sell that information to interested parties (collection agencies/repo men for example).

This is despite the fact that data mining as a discipline is still relatively young. Since data mining is such a profitable discipline, it is almost guaranteed to develop at a much faster pace than our ability to obfuscate our personal identity.

I wouldn't worry about it all that much though... it's not like I've got anything to hide!

Re:Great idea! (3, Interesting)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 4 years ago | (#32609712)

There are companies that exist now whose sole purpose in life is to pull together peoples' personal information from disparate sources, combine that information into astonishingly detailed profiles of just about anyone in the United States, and sell that information to interested parties (collection agencies/repo men for example).

ChoicePoint. And they got caught selling information to criminals (and I don't mean just the corporate type) as well as suffering some severe security breaches. Not a good thing at all, and when I heard about that it made me question the validity of their business and whether it's worth the risk to society.

This is despite the fact that data mining as a discipline is still relatively young. Since data mining is such a profitable discipline, it is almost guaranteed to develop at a much faster pace than our ability to obfuscate our personal identity.

The problem here is that when you accumulate too much of just about anything it becomes dangerous. Put a hundred tons of TNT in a warehouse ... sooner or later someone is going to get hurt. The same thing happens when you collect terabyte after terabyte of personal data and store it away. Yes, it's valuable ... but just as we have restrictions on how explosives can be transported and stored, we need some serious regulation of how and why corporations can store personal data, and when they must, by law, divest themselves of it. Unfortunately, governments (specifically I'm talking about mine, the United States Federal Government) view these giant private data stores as a way to perform data mining that would be illegal as hell if they were to try and do it themselves. So there's little motivation on the part of our lawmakers to try and do anything about this issue.

Re:Great idea! (1)

corbettw (214229) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608520)

Yes, but how do you set the expiration date on that data? Information doesn't decay as there is no biological (or other entropy-effected) component to it. I think anyone advocating a terminal date for any sort of data, without explaining how that date will be managed, is just setting themselves up for failure.

Re:Great idea! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32610234)

The /. headline, based on some second and third hand retellings, focuses on a quite specific part of the dissertation. The idea is much more general and not targeted towards Google specifically in any case.

Many forms of data do become less useful over times. In the Netherlands, for example, when you travel by public transport with the new chip-card every movement you make is stored for seven years.

This is not so useful after seven years. For (tax)-declaration purposes it could be useful to have this information available for a few months or a year. What interests companies after a year or so is the number of people that use a station, travel at a certain time, or perhaps age groups, like those who travels after 9 am. They can easily 'fade' their data to something more general.

In case of a data breach, or data loss (remember for example T-mobile employees selling data, governments losing USB-sticks), the damage is less severe. It will also prevent future as of yet unknown uses. This may or not be an advantage (but think of police interrogating you 7 years after: "Why did you take the train on that day?"). Impossible if the data has faded.

As such a balance can be struck between hoarding every possible piece of information hoping it will someday be useful (and might someday be exposed and abused) and choosing a specific subset of functionality you need, and want: this will also improve transparency towards customers. A company might not like it, like BP didn't care so much about safety measures, but there have been quite substantial data spills, identity thefts (best known case is probably Lifelock’s CEO) that will make companies have to think twice about data, since the storage becomes more and more centralized, such that a breach is much more dangerous.

Finally, a substantial part of the dissertation targets the technical aspects, how to make databases that can degrade data, how does this influence for example you SQL, how does this work with backups made before the data was faded, etc.

Re:Great idea! (1)

bickerdyke (670000) | more than 4 years ago | (#32610664)

Similarly, telling someone where I live right now is less useful information as time goes by, as there's a chance I could have moved that increases with time.

Cellphone numbers!

I keep getting telemerketer calls on my cellphone meant for the guy who had that number assigend before me. And that even though there usually is a 6 months grace period before a phone number is assigned again.

'Degrading' is the wrong word, as it would actually improve the quality of the data. (Less outdated data!)

Re:Great idea! (3, Interesting)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607568)

The value of information is not absolute. All it takes is the right kind of legislation, like what the EU privacy directives attempt to do, to change the value from positive to negative.

With the right kind of laws in place, it would become much more onerous for a company to keep the data it collects longterm rather than throw it away as soon as possible.

Re:Great idea! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32608088)

1. The value of this data to advertisers will degrade over time anyway. They don't really need to know your street address from six years ago - knowing just what city, or even what country you were in may be enough. They're much more interested in where you are now. If they've had time to amass data on you, they probably have you categorized anyway. The data that categorization is based on is of much less value now.

2. This is the sort of privacy that the public can see happening. They may find it appealing, in which case having it would be valuable and you're better off having a little data on millions of people than a ton of data on dozens.

Re:Great idea! (1)

JustABlitheringIdiot (1773798) | more than 4 years ago | (#32612450)

I'd ask what he's smoking, but I think it's pretty obvious.

Yup pretty obvious he has some Jeffrey. Also explains why the furry wall has a hole worn in it.

Data is valuble (0)

Karganeth (1017580) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607408)

When we have AI strong enough to understand personal data Google will soon become a trillion dollar business because of all the data it has.

Re:Data is valuble (1)

ducomputergeek (595742) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607470)

pfssst....they'll become a trillion dollar company anyway thanks to inflation. Although a Trillion dollars isn't what it used to be...

Benefit? (4, Insightful)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607416)

Google could benefit from this according TFA? Seriously? Giving up data on their customers and replacing it with less useful data benefits them? I seriously doubt it. Especially since we've already seen what people in general think about privacy.

No, if Google wanted to go down that road, it would be MUCH smarter to allow people to specify how much of their personal data Google can have, and have a way to remove that data at any time.

Re:Benefit? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32607724)

Google could benefit: less data, less hassle.

Re:Benefit? (3, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608144)

It might help them retain customers. The two reasons that I switched to using DuckDuckGo as my primary search engine were the user interface and the privacy policy. The do a double-bounce trick when you leave the site to block the referrer information, so even if a site is running Google analytics, Google does not get information on my search terms. If they had a better privacy policy (and hadn't spent a lot of effort this year making their user interface worse), I might still be providing them with that data.

Re:Benefit? (1)

kestasjk (933987) | more than 4 years ago | (#32609884)

I think Google knows which side its bread is buttered on; if/when a better privacy policy becomes beneficial for its bottom line it'll adopt one. Until then I doubt DuckDuckGo is a significant threat

Re:Benefit? (1)

dwye (1127395) | more than 4 years ago | (#32610490)

You are not Google's customer, but the resource that Google's customers, the advertisers, pay to get info about. Since millions of other people don't mind giving Google their searching history, they will not care that you withhold yours, even if you are Bill Gates III.

Re:Benefit? (1)

PerfectionLost (1004287) | more than 4 years ago | (#32612492)

Why do you have a problem with people knowing what you searched for to get to their site? Didn't you want to go to their site? Letting a website owner know how and why you got to their site ultimately helps them make a better site for you to use.

Re:Benefit? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32608672)

... and, by proxy, users would suffer.

Why do you think Google gives such good search results? Because they're also the best at mining the vast amounts of data they've captured. Less data = less useful results, directly.

Re:Benefit? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32609310)

However, because of the data Google collects from their users, they are in a better position to know (1) who doesn't like their personal data stored, (2) what data shouldn't be stored, and (3) what is the optimal data degradation/removal to be used for said person.

It's the same with ads. You might say "Let me choose my own ads!" but Google knows better than you do what you like.

Re:Benefit? (1)

Iamthecheese (1264298) | more than 4 years ago | (#32609626)

Yes! Google can benefit form this. Here's how:

1: Widely advertise how it is helping users by letting data gracefully degrade.
2: Set the age it starts to degrade long after the time they're presently deleting the information (and only for information they're already deleting)
3: Pretend they're doing the users a favor while actually keeping more data, longer.
4: Apply this principal to any data they want to keep.
5: Profit!

Re:Benefit? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32609708)

I love how it says "researches say." Whoa man, but researches said it! Now they have to do it? Who are they trying to convince? There's no right answer here it's up to them.

Re:Benefit? (1)

bickerdyke (670000) | more than 4 years ago | (#32610686)

Google could benefit from this according TFA? Seriously? Giving up data on their customers and replacing it with less useful data benefits them?

Well, yes.

They only need to relize that wrong, outdated data isn't an asset anymore, but a liability as it might lead to costly mistakes.

Good luck with that (4, Insightful)

spartacus_prime (861925) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607432)

Once you post something on the Internet, it doesn't really disappear. I Google myself from time to time and am shocked to find profiles on websites I haven't visited in ages. Periodically purging data would be a better idea, but then these providers would miss out on all the money they get from selling said data.

Re:Good luck with that (1)

vlueboy (1799360) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608238)

I Google myself from time to time and am shocked to find profiles on websites I haven't visited in ages.

I hate finding profiles on websites I have NEVER visited. Data miners like pipl, mylife, intelius, cogmap and spock have created profiles for me based on stuff as simple as a friend's blog containing my full name. It's annoying when you can't take the stuff down because technically you don't own the data. It's more annoying when I just want my cool stuff to float up so employers see my real-life achievements. Apparently the above crawlers don't give a hoot about factoring achievements in, so they just displace good stuff away while they put useless crap at the top. I've hidden data trying to float down old and irrelevant stuff (2003 friendster profile!) down into oblivion.

Oh, regarding the article, it's pointless to dump data in parts. Imagine the Feds running an investigation to solve a murder, but finding only an IP from Google because their policy were to "minimize trouble" to people they otherwise ruthlessly milked. I disagree with organized spying, but partial collection leads to dead-ends. Deadends cause otherwise assuring FBI documentaries to end in "killer is still at large" :)

It would certainly help with search results. (5, Interesting)

earls (1367951) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607450)

Then I'd stop finding two and three year old solutions to new problems in new versions of software. Yeah, you can "filter" Google search results by date, but filter features are mediocre at best... And I'm unaware of a way to make them persistent. The majority of my Google search now-a-days end up as "searchterm" and then twenty "-negativekeywords" following it.

Re:It would certainly help with search results. (1)

corbettw (214229) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608546)

Yeah, you can "filter" Google search results by date, but filter features are mediocre at best.

That's because data doesn't have a "best by" date. The reason your search results suck is the same reason this entire enterprise will fail spectacularly: data doesn't naturally expire, and there is no physical mechanism by which it would.

Re:It would certainly help with search results. (1)

PerfectionLost (1004287) | more than 4 years ago | (#32612504)

Here's an idea. Try using the same words other people use to describe things.

People change as does your data. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32607458)

Your data chances over time. What is marketable to you will change with age, income, politics, hormone changes, you name it. This makes sense to me.

Re:People change as does your data. (1)

ihxo (16767) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607606)

Just like splice, I change sex every couple of month also.

Knackers (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607510)

The premise is wrong. Non-digital data fades because it takes considerable effort to prevent it doing so; it takes up room (so it gets chucked out), gets pissed on by cats, eaten by rats, set on fire, contaminated with fungus, made into paper aeroplanes.

A hard drive full of data doesn't really require much more care and feeding than an empty one; to selectively retire shit off it actually requires effort - and who can be arsed? Not me.

Re:Knackers (1)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607628)

I don't understand the purpose of this either but it wouldn't necessarily take much effort. Something like a days_to_live attribute on each field in a database might be enough and it only needs to be set once, when the db is created.

Re:Knackers (1)

moonbender (547943) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608130)

Sure, you can create the field, and the db can delete those records when the time comes. But that won't delete the same records from backups, replicated copies, etc. So it wouldn't be all that difficult to access data which should have been forgotten. OTOH, for many practical purposes the data would be gone, so I guess it would be an improvement.

Re:Knackers (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#32611448)

Right, because only one copy of any particular item of data ever exists.

Instead, we can grow up (5, Insightful)

Improv (2467) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607516)

We'll learn to deal with the fact that people mature over time and the things they do when very young might not represent them when they're older. This lengthening of memories should let us mature a bit rather than try to hide in the bush.

Re:Instead, we can grow up (2, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607600)

Enough people will have so much stupid stuff recorded no one will care anymore. That will be a good day.

Re:Instead, we can grow up (2, Funny)

by (1706743) (1706744) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607604)

Indeed; when the generation which grew up on myspace and facebook produces "important" people (e.g., congresspeople, senators) it's likely that the only candidates with no dirt on them are the ones who were socially inept in their college days.

Come to think of it, that might give the /. crowd something of an edge...

Re:Instead, we can grow up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32610352)

Crap, we've been made! Quick, vilify him until our plans sink into the sea of negative associations and confirmation bias!

Re:Instead, we can grow up (1)

^_^x (178540) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607630)

That would be great. Unfortunately something like that still counts as a profound personal realization, and while you may be so enlightened, it won't stop others from holding something you said when you were 12 on a random message board against you till the day you die.

Personally I just change pseudonyms from time to time, but that can be hard in cases where you have an active group of friends who knows one name. If you publicly refer to the change, to a data harvester it's as good as using the old name.

Re:Instead, we can grow up (3, Insightful)

nine-times (778537) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607634)

I'm a bit torn. I don't think you're wrong, but I wouldn't be surprised if some people end up sort of "branded for life" because their personal info never goes away. It'd be nice to think we could all "grow up", but... well, have you met people? Like, in real life, have you talked to real people about stuff? Do you really think they're going to "grow up"?

On the other hand, you're right that this level of information probably shouldn't matter, and perhaps our culture will evolve to deal with having this level of information available. Also, I somewhat like the idea of having so much historical information available; perhaps one day our computers will be able to do interesting things with this glut of information.

Either way, I'm going to stick to the good old strategy of using aliases, and hope that nobody ever realizes that "nine-times" is really "Bill Gates".

Re:Instead, we can grow up (1)

outsider007 (115534) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608074)

I don't mind google spying on me because they promised they wouldn't be evil.

Re:Instead, we can grow up (1)

moonbender (547943) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608160)

That ignores the presumed fact that things you do in the past do tend to represent people's behaviour when they're older. The humane and mature (and even the sensible) way would be to ignore this, but those are not always categories for businesses hiring or insurance companies.

Re:Instead, we can grow up (1)

tool462 (677306) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608436)

Perhaps, but I'm more inclined to think that those who are best able to control their personal information will be king.

The vast majority of us will have a thorough enough record of our past deeds and misdeeds to be torn down at any time by anybody who would wish to do so.
In theory, mutually assured destruction should prevent anybody from wanting to.
The ones who will be successful in doing so, however, will be the ones with less dirt to dig through.

I personally think we should just get the internet really really drunk so it blacks out and forgets everything between puberty and grad school.

Discovery in legal cases? (3, Interesting)

maxwells_deamon (221474) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607524)

Must be some sort of firm policy or they will be accused of selective policy.

Also, "Degrade" implies slow and gradual steps to me. How can this be done? Slowly randomly corrupt it?

Imagine the programing updates. These fields can be trusted if d_update 6 but otherwise...

A staged firm policy I could see. But if you miss a deadline or get ahead, then the lawyers eat you up. Also backups? Keep it, or nuke it. Allow access control to increase perhaps.

Re:Discovery in legal cases? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608204)

Hard drives fail. Google has a lot of hard drives and enough of them fail that they can publish papers comparing reliability of disks from different manufacturers, in different conditions, and so on. They work around this problem through replication. Picking some made-up numbers, let's assume a hard drive has a 10% chance of failing each year. If you store data on three drives, then the probability that you will have it in a year's time is 99.9% (three things with a probability of 10% have to happen for it to be lost). If you store it on four drives, the probability is 99.99%.

On the other hand, the probability if you store it on one drive is only 90%. After two years, it's only 81%. After five years, it's only 60%. After ten years, it's down at 35%. If you just put each record on one drive[1] then 90% of your data that is less than a year old will survive, but only 60% of five year old and only 35% of ten year old data will survive.

As I recall, Google actually does something a bit like this. Less important data is replicated less aggressively, so it does degrade over time, although only on average.

[1] And my completely made-up number for hard drive failure is accurate, which it probably isn't, but it serves as an example.

Re:Discovery in legal cases? (1)

net28573 (1516385) | more than 4 years ago | (#32610450)

this makes sense considering the storage mechanism is magnetism. magnetic fields or a magnets strength do decrease over time. this is why im old fassioned and just use dvd discs to store my data on. it takes a log longer but with two backups being backed up every year its a lot cheaper in price but more expensive in time used.

Re:Discovery in legal cases? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32609468)

How about instead of a "degradation" policy, a distinct time limit where data goes poof? This can be enforced by HSMs that will refuse to decrypt files or data older than a certain time, or a pruning task which just zaps the data.

Sorta Like This? (5, Funny)

The Wild Norseman (1404891) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607542)

Dutch researcher Harold van Heerde discussed his work on the idea of allowing data to becomes less specific over time. Letting the specifics gradually disappear could protect consumer privacy while also meeting the needs of service providers

Sorta like me, for example?

The Wild Norseman -->

A Norseman -->

Some Guy -->

A Person, Place or Thing -->

A Nobody -->

Anonymous Coward

Re:Sorta Like This? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32608288)

Oh shit!
You mean I've been at the pinnacle of data evolution this whole time? :D

Let Personal Data Fade Away (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607586)

Except in Australia...

Good Grief... (1)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607612)

I don't see this happening. The "GoogleSphere" revolves around leveraging personal information. It's *ALL* about data mining and relationships.

You know, Google isn't the only one, organically your info can live in the Intertubes forever. It's up to the indevidual to protect their personal information, not blame someone else for their own stupidity of telling everyone on Facebook or whatever that they like to feel up boys while loaded on malt beer...

Re:Good Grief... (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607666)

And the "FirefoxSphere" is all about keeping Adblock turned on, and wondering what everyone's being so fussy about.

Re:Good Grief... (1)

joh (27088) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607778)

Yeah, but with more and more "personal" computing happening in "the cloud" people will hardly know that their data is *not* (only) on their device. I mean, putting something up at facebook is one thing but using all the fine and free Google apps on your Android phone is different, isn't it?

No, it isn't. A whole fucking lot of your personal data ends up on Google's servers, mail, calendar, chats, navigation data, voice profile, ad-tracking, search terms, whatever. It's not only things you put up for others, just using your funky new cellphone as intended does that for you.

Google isn't the only one but it surely is the one with the most extensive data collections in several dimensions of more and more people. It knows where you have been, where you navigated to, whom you mailed, what you said. This *is* different from someone putting up some stupid things on Facebook.

Re:Good Grief... (1)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607988)

Yeah, but with more and more "personal" computing happening in "the cloud" people will hardly know that their data is *not* (only) on their device.

Once again, you are personally responsible for what personal info you put out there. I don't use "the cloud".

Re:Good Grief... (1)

joh (27088) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608186)

Yeah, but with more and more "personal" computing happening in "the cloud" people will hardly know that their data is *not* (only) on their device.

Once again, you are personally responsible for what personal info you put out there. I don't use "the cloud".

This is very clever of you. But suppose millions of people do? Should everyone know where every bit of data on every device goes before he uses it?

Anyway. So you're saying people should not use Android? Or Bing or assisted GPS? Because, whenever you use AGPS (very convenient that) you "put your location out there". You're saying people should know that and shouldn't use AGPS then? Good luck with that.

The thing is that you don't "put info out there". That info is taken from you and you're seduced by some "free" and convenient services to let that happen and to not think about it. You're selling your digital blood and soul for shiny glass beads. Well, maybe you don't. Sorry.

All of this is too new and right now nearly totally unregulated. Companies like Google can almost collect what they want and within their datacenters do what they want with that data. Because they pretend it's not yours anymore at that point. It's theirs.

Which is it? (1)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608760)

This is very clever of you. But suppose millions of people do? Should everyone know where every bit of data on every device goes before he uses it?

When you put your personal information on the Internet, you accept that you lose control over that info. Or, you are an idiot. Which is it?

Re:Which is it? (1)

The MESMERIC (766636) | more than 4 years ago | (#32612368)

What about when OTHERS put information about you - without your consent?

Alternatively, We Should Add Chaff (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32607648)

Another approach to this problem that we can all participate in is to add as much chaff to the system as possible. Every day, you should create at least 5 separate email addresses and sign them up for 5 different Facebook and Youtube accounts and have each "person" upload some stuff. That way, any company that does the wrong thing will eventually drown in it. Plus, you'll appear to have lots and lots of friends. Oh look, Osama bin Waldo just friended me.

Re:Alternatively, We Should Add Chaff (1)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607714)

Every day, you should...

How about "every day" you take Personal Responsibility for the crap you leave on the Intertubes?

Re:Alternatively, We Should Add Chaff (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32610544)

Like your post here where you admit you've got some weird anal intertube fetish?

Wife urged to fucking let it go... (1)

ebystander (1810248) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607652)

"Marriage counselors say the subject of arguments should 'degrade' — becoming less specific over time — to protect spousal sanity. Rather than building a huge grudge and holding on to it as long as legally possible, typical marriages should allow the grudge to degrade over time, according to marriage counselors. In an interview with the BBC this week, Dutch researcher Harold van Hashpipe discussed his work on the idea of allowing the subjects of fights to becomes less specific over time. Letting the specifics gradually disappear could protect your marriage while also meeting the needs of your sex life, he said." ctrl+h=fun!

Data degradation useless... (3, Interesting)

blahplusplus (757119) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607788)

... because there are so many other alternatives to tracking users and users being too stupid to know about them. i.e. flash. There are all sorts of ways of figuring out who is browsing which, you should look at the number of you're loading data from/sending data to with noscript on. Data degradation would not do anything to stop techniques and companies who collect the same or more data under the radar through "legitimate" means.

Statue of Limitations? (1)

U8MyData (1281010) | more than 4 years ago | (#32607870)

The law has a similar provision. I think it would be a good thing as well as a bad thing considering the situation; however, I also think it is necessary. Reading some of the comments such as there should be an inference that people get older and wiser only suffices if everyone recognizes that as fact. The point is, if there is information to help someone gain at your expense, they WILL use it. Limitations are more than useful in this case. Have you ever made a mistake you would rather forget... forever...?

Aggregation (1)

cyberfunkr (591238) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608076)

I think the key to it all would be logical aggregation.

Consider I do a search for "e3 2010" today. I'm sure millions have. For the moment, it's *ahem* important that Google knows exactly who I am so it can create targeted ads for me. But by next year, or the year after, what's the point?

Over time, change from the individual to the demographic. Out of those millions, there has to be at least a few that are of the same age, gender, geographic location, etc. as me. Does it really matter that *I* did it or that a something-year-old gender from city, state made the search? The only thing lost is an absolute who.

By simplifying the data, it becomes easier to mine.

Eh? Don't they do this already? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32608234)

Last i checked, Google already do this sort of thing, such as truncating IP data to 3 octets, then 2 octets.
And there was a movement within Google itself to anonymize data after a certain period, their very own "data detectives" or whatever the official name was. (with respect to Google and their strange naming conventions)

Personal information for peoples accounts?
Yeah, good luck pissing off over a million people when Google suddenly forgets their own name!
"Oh hey there some random dude, you successfully logged in to this here e-mail service, here are your e-mails, good luck finding your banking details. Yeah, we thought of that too, we removed your banks name, and your name, and anything relating to you."
SOUNDS INCREDIBLY USEFUL.

Face it, your privacy means shit. You want privacy? STOP BROWSING.

And why exactly would they do this? (1)

jvkjvk (102057) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608620)

I would tend to argue that personally identified data will increase in value the longer data stream in continuous.

Imagine a 1 year study vs a 20 year study.

The fact is that we are at the very tip of this phenomena.

You could then even perhaps begin predicting large trends over the order of decades, based on individual inputs from the boots on the ground, everywhere reporting streams of identifiable information.

The data may be less valuable to you in terms of your own utility but do not imagine for a moment that it degrades in value to the archivists.

Regards.

Privacy : look into the wrong direction (2, Insightful)

kentsin (225902) | more than 4 years ago | (#32608626)

Some local people think phone books (white pages), court announcements are hurting privacy.

Personal data is not secret.

The problem is that people with our personal data can harm us. Making profit from our data is not a crime, but hurting us, steeling money from our account, sent us spams were.

It is not a solution to lock down all personal data, which we will give away for good reasons.

It is to prevent someone to hurt us with our personal data. That is what going to be useful.

Europeans were very stupid, in they make privacy a problem, they raise the standard level and feel good. They use other people's resource and claim they are green.

BAD COMPANY !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32608722)

Fading colors, changing sounds
Shades of night come tumbling down
Bring tomorrow like yesterday
Fade away

Here I am, a wayward man
Following the light to a distant land
Come tomorrow, without yesterday
Fade away

High adventure I just begun
Fame and fortune got me on the run
Break off the way
Fade away, yeah

Oh yes I am a wayward man
Following the light to a distant land
Come tomorrow, without yesterday
Fade away

Oh fade away, fade away

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/3/3c/BadCompany_Run_With_The_Pack.jpg [wikimedia.org]

Fade Away? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32609482)

I wish Google would reconsider their policy of never recycling usernames.

Re:Fade Away? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32609848)

why ?

Stupid phrasing (2, Informative)

JakeD409 (740143) | more than 4 years ago | (#32610214)

companies such as Google should allow the data to degrade over time

Phrasing like this pisses me off. If Google's data degraded over time, it's not that they'd be "allowing" it to degrade, they'd have to do extra work and write extra code to force it to degrade. Saying "allow" implies that degrading is what data do naturally, and that Google is somehow artificially preserving it.

Re:Stupid phrasing (2, Informative)

The MESMERIC (766636) | more than 4 years ago | (#32612292)

But Google is ARTIFICIALLY preserving it.
It is called PageRank. It strengthens OVER time.

(Damn I give up!)

What? (1)

JeremyDuffy (1024241) | more than 4 years ago | (#32611312)

This advice doesn't make sense. Why should it degrade? They shouldn't record it in the first place! What private information do they need to "improve their service"? If they don't sell our personal data, then they shouldn't record it!

Re:What? (1)

The MESMERIC (766636) | more than 4 years ago | (#32612090)

One of the reasons:

Because some people have been accused of crimes they did NOT commit.

The news went viral. Blogs, forums, web news won't bother removing the article.

Their names have been tarnished - forever. And there is nothing they can do about it.

So I see this as a good thing. If a person is guilty he should be in Jail.

Another reason:

Because we grow up, because we may do things we regret. Say trolling or posting a pic of someone in an embarrassing situation - pretty unfairly.

The internet shouldn't be some sort of permanent Karma DB, it is believe it or not simply a media channel, for entertainment and information.

If past stuff gets permanently locked in it could be widely abused; by employers, by the governments, by companies, by blackmailer - damn by criminals even. We will lose our freedom to err and learn. And everything would be in place for a Big Brother society to finally become.

Re:What? (1)

The MESMERIC (766636) | more than 4 years ago | (#32612252)

One more reason:

Because some data is wrong fixed and is consistently overwriting over the present one.

Take Google Maps for Example.

It sometimes add companies (automatically), damn even HOSPITALS with older details.

The secretaries, even managers are very clueless how to go about fixing this.

You can't contact Google, try - there is no support.

They are made to feel guilty, but damn it was Google that picked an old information (of 3 years back) and put it on #1 for that Hospital.

That OLD data gets fed back into many directories, which in turn gets passed to many health websites. Virally.

Again with no intervention or intention of the said Hospital.

Now of Data were to degrade 'graciously' then Google should then automatically assume the NEW PHONE NUMBER precedes over the OLD PHONE NUMBER (of 3 years ago).

So stuff like that.

By degrading it may not even necessarily mean - data should disappear completely, but the older the data - the further it should recede to the back of the queue.

In my view, that is fair and necessary.

Damn folks, are most people here so blind? I am reading many of the comments. This is so scary. It's like pre-fascism the way your minds are so inclined; you only need a leader - and then you complain about China and Australia.

i think the best argument should be (1)

shnull (1359843) | more than 4 years ago | (#32612288)

that the value of 'personal data' degrades automatically over time. people change, interests fade quickly, data like that is probably useless after one week in this add stressed out world
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