It is often said that the Internet never forgets. This means that, in the digital world, remembering is easier and cheaper than forgetting, whereas it is the other way around in our daily lives. A lack of degradation of information has severe impacts on the privacy of those involved. Furthermore, a temporary leaked secret can haunt your organisation for ages. Therefore, technologies that bring the effects of time back are an interesting tool for both security and privacy.

In 2009, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger presented his book “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age“. Here, he explains how remembering became prevalent over forgetting in the digital age. The examples show how information shared a long time ago can come back to have strong effects on the lives of those concerned.

Remembering Is a Security Problem
Besides the implications on privacy of a system that never forgets, it makes security goals harder. Protecting the confidentiality of information is much easier when that information degrades over time. In the past, many written information became inaccessible over time by the nature of the media that held it. Therefore, forgotten secrets dissolved themselves.

These days, storage is cheap and redundancy is easy. For this reason, when information is shared or stolen, chances are high it will stay in the possession of those that acquired it. Additionally, if certain data is left lying around, it may still be accessible after long periods of time. The persistence of modern information storage solutions makes the protection of confidentiality even more important than it was in the past and gives each decision whether information is shared major impact.

Degradation in the Digital Age
To bring back the traditional life cycle of information, data degradation is needed. In other words, the quality and accuracy of data should decrease when time passes. By enabling the effects of time in the digital world, negative effects on security and privacy are brought down.

Geambasu et al. (2009) introduced a system to make data self-destruct over time. One of the main features of this system is the encryption of information and the usage of a decentralised network to make the key vanish over time. When the cryptographic key is lost, the information cannot be accessed anymore and is, thus, self-destructed.

The proposed system protects only against retrieval after expiration of the information. In practice, this may be enough, as people tend to realise they want to retain or access this information in a later stage and not upon retrieval. Nevertheless, future research has to show whether these security properties can also be provided when the data is still available.

Bring Back Forgetfulness in the Modern Age
Even though the retention of important information is very important, being able to forget all other information while time passes is a virtue and not a burden of the human mind. As forgetting is put under pressure in the digital society, techniques that allow data degradation become more important, especially when concerned with privacy and security. Therefore, it is important to remember to forget.

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