Protecting Privacy with Unreliable Data

MyLifeBits Capture Device

The New Yorker has a long profile on Gordon Bell, who’s the lead guinea pig for Microsoft’s My LifeBits project, which is an effort to go Massively paperless: he’s scanned every artifact and bit of ephemera (photos, papers, receipts, etc) that he’s acquired over the years into a database, and now wears a small black box around his neck which perpetually captures video and audio. The project looks both backwards (Vannevar Bush and his 1945 notion of a Memex are cited as the guiding principle of the project) and forwards: M$ is trying to prototype human life a few decades in the future, where every moment is recorded and recallable.

How is infinite recall going to change the human experience?

That’s a big question, and I’m not prepared to go into in depth, but one thing I found particularly interesting was the strategy to protect privacy:

“One of the tactics being considered is having the software corrupt a transcript by intermittently inserting phrases and words. It would be understood that any transcript, while essentially reliable, was not infallible—“an untrustworthy transcript,” Gemmell calls it.

This deliberate corruption of data is a very subtle, very elegant solution. Rather than trying to make everything bulletproof, it forces the acknowledgment that human perception is flawed and human memory unreliable, even when that memory is aided by prosthesis. Its like inscribing Akira Kurosawa’s Rashoman unto the world.


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