Home » From Google to Twitter: why our digital lives are in danger of disappearing

From Google to Twitter: why our digital lives are in danger of disappearing

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From Google to Twitter: why our digital lives are in danger of disappearing

On May 16, Google announced the decision to eliminate, starting from December 2023, all inactive accounts for over two years. A few days later, a similar statement also came from Twitter, which will delete profiles that have not been used for several years. At first glance it seems like a more than legitimate decision: why should we keep mailboxes or abandoned profileswith the only result of keeping alive an army of zombie accounts, potential prey for hackers and more?

However, things are not so simple: the announcement of Twitter, for example, has raised a lot of controversy by those who fear seeing the accounts of deceased people disappear, depriving them of a tool that helps keep the memory alive. In our digital age, social profiles can in fact also become a corner of memory: this is the case of the Facebook message boards of people who have disappeared for some time, but who continue to receive visits from friends or relatives on birthdays, anniversaries or even just to browse photo albums. Deleting all those profiles overnight would be a painful choice for many.

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Nor should another aspect be underestimated: mailboxes and social profiles are now the places where events also take place conversations that may have significant historical value and cultural. Under a Twitter post or in an exchange via e-mail we could in the future recover today’s equivalent of what, almost a century ago and to give just one example, was the exchange of letters between Einstein and Freud about the war.

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A similar argument can also apply to Google accounts that have uploaded to YouTube music videos, clips from old broadcasts, documentaries, home movies or even just advertising: can we really afford to indiscriminately delete content that could have sociocultural significance? In this regard, Google subsequently specified that YouTube videos will not be deleted at the same time as the account, however raising doubts about the will (and on the possibility) of keeping all this material indefinitely.

“If Google continues in this policy, and if other companies follow, there is a real risk of collectively losing entire historical archives together with personal memories”, he explained to the MIT Tech Review researcher Tamara Kneese, author of a forthcoming book on the subject. Then why do they do it? Why do tech giants seem intent on getting rid of so much content?

The reason given by Google is one of security – older accounts would be more prone to identity theft, because they are often protected by weak passwords and rarely equipped with protections such as two-factor authentication. However, there is another aspect: the cloud in which we have become accustomed to storing our digital life is not an infinite space, but made up of company servers with increasing costs.

“As far as the cost per unit even dropped by 90% in the last decade, we need an ever-increasing number of these units, because the amount of data to be stored is growing exponentially – reads Tech Review – Other considerations concern the environmental cost of powering computers in where this data is saved and the risk of increasing the entrance doors potentially exploitable by cybercriminals”.

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And so: can we really outsource to private companies and to their cloud our personal memories? Should it really be the technological giants who take charge of the conservation of material that could, in some cases, be of public interest in the future? Although Google itself allows users to decide what should happen to their inactive accounts, including the ability to send all files to third parties, it is clear that it should be us (in the first person, through hard disks, flash drives and more) to take on more and more the task of archiving and cataloging everything that interests us. And we should do it before it’s too late.

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