online privacy

Erasable Internet

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel, who believes delete is the new default.

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel, who believes delete is the new default.

The hacking of Sony Pictures has sparked speculation about an erasable Internet. In a world where everything is public, you may want a communications platform where what you say suddenly disappears.

Sony CEO Amy Pascal undoubtedly wishes for a mulligan so she could put all her snarky comments about Hollywood counterparts on the equivalent of Snapchat, so they would vaporize soon after they were read.

High-profile figures, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, have tried to scrub their online past without complete success. Stuff never fully melts away. There is always somebody who took a screenshot of an offending rant and shows no hesitation to spread it anew when the moment is right or, in the case of Gingrich, wrong.

Google’s ever-evolving algorithms have put the kibosh on trying to bury old bad news with happy feet good news. Whitewashing is pretty much kaput.

New York Times technology columnist Farhad Manjoo has made a friendly suggestion that if you can’t control when you post on social media or in email, then maybe you should consider using a device that automatically dumps your remarks. He says in a hackable world, an erasable Internet holds a lot of appeal.

“This might seem like an extreme, perhaps jaded response to the hack at Sony Pictures Entertainment, which has resulted in the disclosure of thousands of private documents ranging from trivial to merely embarrassing to grossly serious,” Manjoo wrote in his blog.

“The disclosures make the case for creating what I’ve called the erasable Internet. Last year, after the stunning rise of Snapchat, an app that sends pictures and messages that disappear after the recipient receives them, I argued that we were witnessing the birth of a new attitude toward data online.”

Where once we thought of online resources as rich archives, Manjoo says people may now look at online communications as in the moment, not for all time. He points to an existing messaging app called Confide that deletes a message as soon as it is read.

Of course, for apps like Confide and Snapchat to work would require all the people you want to communicate with to be on the same apps. As it turns out, most of us are on email and more hack-prone social media platforms. Despite the threats to our privacy from hackers, government spies and disaffected North Koreans, we are comfortable. We are not likely to bolt from our comfort zone any time soon.

An erasable Internet could turn a lot of online engagement on its ear. Companies have invested huge sums to engage and lock down brand advocates. They would be a lot less interested in a stop-and-kiss relationship.

Millennials, who wouldn’t recognize an encyclopedia if a set fell off a table at Starbuck’s on their foot, could be confused when told some of what they wanted to retrieve online was now missing. Only old people would remember the days when you couldn’t find a phone number because someone had ripped out a page of the phonebook.

Manjoo launched an intriguing conversation, which of course has been duly recorded in print, on radio and online. We will be able to mull at length a world with a short memory while clicking on our fav sites that give us a world perspective on almost everything at our fingertips.

Unless you are intentionally or pathologically snarky, the erasable Internet — where delete is the default — is probably a passing fancy right up there with the wish for world peace. Nice, but unlikely.

Oops, gotta go. My Facebook page just dinged.