Controversy Brews over Plan to Publicize Memories

History buffs applaud publishing memories of those deceased, privacy advocates cry foul

Story by Ned Dion

When the personal memory and DNA backup system was first released over fifty years ago, it was hailed as a great advancement, ensuring that people all over the world could be restored to their original condition if something were to ever happen to them. Unfortunately, the price tag meant that most people would never be able to take advantage of the devices, and as time went on, it became clear that there were some longevity issues with the standalone units.

“It’s what drove me to start my service,” Don Donaldson said, referring to the aforementioned problems. “I wanted to make memory backup affordable and reliable.” Donaldson’s service, dubbed MemorySpace, has been in business now for nearly fifteen years. MemorySpace’s services are run by two main components: the memory reader–a small, relatively inexpensive device that interfaces with the firetooth connection on your computer–and the MemorySpace portal. It was the inexpensive reader device that put MemorySpace on the map.

“We wanted to make sure that the device was not only inexpensive, but free to share,” Donaldson said, showing off one of the early models. The fact that anyone can use the reader to upload their memories to MemorySpace’s portal for free finally made memory backup feasible for, literally, everyone.

“One company even operated a ‘MemorySpace Booth’ for a while, letting anyone come in, pay a nominal fee, and upload their memories right then and there.” Donaldson said, pointing to pictures showcased in MemorySpace’s company museum. All that glitters, however, is not gold. At least that’s what privacy advocates are saying after recent revelations about MemorySpace’s policies.

“Most people don’t realize that the terms of use you accept when signing up for the service–which the vast majority of people don’t read anyways–has you agreeing to accept any and all changes in policy they decide to make, past present or future,” Bill Masters, head of the Pangaeans for Privacy organization. “To give a tangible example, this means that if MemorySpace were to decide that they would share all of your negative thoughts about your friends with the world, they’d be perfectly within their rights to do so. There would be nothing users of the service could do to stop them.”

Donaldson wouldn’t comment on any specific claim. He merely dismissed them as “ridiculous fear-mongering.” Still, his company recently announced that it would provide anthropologists and other social scientists at New York State University with a “select collection of aggregated, anonymized memories.”

“It was a truly unexpected, but extremely welcome move,” Professor Swath explained. “Our task is to study how changes in society affect each and every one of us. For instance, we’re extremely interested in how the general populace felt about major historical events when they happened. This will allow us to go beyond the history books and get to the heart of the matter.”

Donaldson assures the users of the service that the only memories that will be released will be from those who have already died, and that all names and exact locations will be removed from the memories. The one exception would be the names of famous people mentioned in the memories. Pangaeans for Privacy is not convinced.

“We got a hold of a sample of these so-called ‘anonymized memories’ and were able to narrow the owner down to one of three people. If we could do that without knowing the person represented by these memories, how easy will it be for someone who actually DID know them?” Masters said. Time will tell for sure, but MemorySpace is not backing down on its plans.

“We feel it’s extremely important to the study of history to have this type of information available,” Donaldson said. “We’re sure that our users will agree, and will continue to make use of the extremely valuable services we provide.”