The “Real Names” discussion is raging these days, and it’s great to see not only fringe opinionist chipping in, but big names on both sides. Danah Boyd from Microsoft chooses to focus on the power people ought to have to secure themselves. While Alexis Madrigal, senior editor at The Atlantic, looks at pseudonyms and how they can be used to avoid persisting and attaching information to one’s real identity. The Slashdot crowd says, “if you don’t like it, don’t use their service”. Everybody has a story from Facebook when sensitive information leaked out to the wrong people.

All this starts to sound familiar, and indeed the various points raised now were all neatly collected about two years ago in Viktor Mayer-Schonberger’s book “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. Schonberger’s argument was not focused on real name or pseudonyms, but rather examined what happens when the default shifts from forgetting to remembering almost everything. He investigates several options and solutions to the problem of eternal memory, and has at least one suggestion which might help: expiration dates for information.

Although engineers and managers alike would get much back from reading the book, I fear that Schonberger’s argument would be lost on many of them. It would drown in technical details and resistance, never making it into code. Expiring digital information is so counter-intuitive to how engineers work and think, it would be written off as impossible.

As for the “Real Names” debate, my take is “trust no one”. “Enemy of the State” is definitely worth a re-watch if you haven’t seen it lately.