Just as the permanence of Internet content has reigned supreme, so too has the spirit of those wanting to counter that permanence. One of the more popular apps along these lines is Snapchat. The app allows the user to send a message or a picture that will self-destruct within 10 seconds of its initial display by the recipient.
With the Library of Congress already archiving billions of tweets and parents having warned kids about questionable or embarrassing behaviors online coming back to haunt them, apps like this were only a matter of time. Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research says this development is not at all surprising (Felix Gillette, Snapchat and the Right to Be Forgotten Bloomberg Businessweek 2/11/132/17/13, pp. 4247):
This cohort has grown up with the expectation of surveillance by people who hold direct power over them. Its not about surveillance from companies or the state. Its surveillance from their teachers, their college admissions officers, their parents. (p. 45)
As another example, Reputation.com developed a Web browser extension that can encrypt your Facebook posts. Your friends would need a special key to decode your updates. Similar to Snapchat, you could also designate an expiration date for each post so that it conveniently disappears.
These developments are not surprising to me. Although by nature Internet content tends toward immortality, this recent creation of records-nullification tools merely mirrors the real world. In the real world, memories dim, books are updated, people die, credit reports drop events, youthful indiscretions become expunged, and magazines go out of print. Would we truly believe Internet content would not eventually fall under some of the same time restrictions as the physical world?
What will be very interesting to watch is how this new business segment grows and what the ramifications are socially, legally, and technologically. In the meantime, for those who remember a very old TV show, This blog post will self-destruct in five seconds.
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