In last week’s episode of Privacy Carve Out, Vaporstream promised to allow us to create, send and receive untrackable, unforwardable and disappearing email. This week the mavens at Xerox PARC announce they’ve developed a prototype technology that ensures that printed content diasappears within 24 hours. Just like thermal paper, except you don’t have to leave it out in the sun or in a parked car.

The immortal words of the Bard vs. the mortal words of you
Here’s an excerpt of the announcement, which shows just how wrong very smart people can get the implications of their creativity.

TORONTO and PALO ALTO, Calif., Nov. 27, 2006 — Xerox Corporation (NYSE:XRX) scientists have invented a way to make prints whose images last only a day, so that the paper can be used again and again. The technology, which is still in a preliminary state, blurs the line between paper documents and digital displays and could ultimately lead to a significant reduction in paper use.

The experimental printing technology, a collaboration between the Xerox Research Centre of Canada and PARC (Palo Alto Research Center Inc.), could someday replace printed pages that are used for just a brief time before being discarded. . . .

Xerox has filed for patents on the technology, which it calls “erasable paper.” It is currently part of a laboratory project that focuses on the concept of future dynamic documents.

Folks, who is going to bother to feed wrinked, dog-eared paper back into a printer to guarantee a paper jam? The real benefit here is privacy, that increasingly scarce commodity in a world of ever cheaper storage.

You will have privacy when we want you to have privacy
Authoritarians drool at the thought of ransacking every nook and cranny of our lives in search of illegal, embarrassing or déclassé behavior. Even America, Home of the Free, has several Supreme Court justices who believe that privacy is a gift of government, not an inherent right. “Sure, you have liberty. We’ll just make sure everyone knows what you do with it. Bwa-ha-ha!”

Until the Government needs privacy
Of course, in matters of national security, the government sees the need for all kinds of privacy, especially when disclosure reveals stupid, corrupt or morally repugnant behavior. Or, the software powering our very expensive defense systems (see Quick Disk Erase: Harder Than You Think).

The take
Two data points don’t make a trend, yet in a world with cheap massive storage and public network-based behavior, meaningful privacy will cease to exist unless we take pains to preserve it. Human frailty and hypocrisy being what they are, this means a high-growth privacy industry for the next several decades. Ultimately we all face governments, companies, competitors and acquaintances who may want to use information to hurt us or our families. Carving out privacy in our brave new digital world will take decades of controversy and pain.

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