code on a computer screen
PHOTO: Markus Spiske | unsplash

When it comes to deleting data waste, “In my opinion, social media is the worst, really,” said Virginie Guerin, co-founder of the French Digital Cleanup Day team. “It’s very hard to do. We created lots of small how-tos. For example, how to delete your photographs from Facebook. How to go into your social network and find the feature that stops the video launching automatically.

“What I would like is just to be able to delete all the things I did in the past 10 years. I don’t need to have all these things staying on the platform. The way you can find out how to delete what and where, it’s very, very hard and it’s becoming harder. I think social networks have a responsibility today to help people reduce their carbon footprint, to help people in cleaning things.

“When you erase a picture on Facebook, it’s still on Facebook somewhere. You don’t have it yourself but they have it somewhere. You do the job yourself to delete but you’re not sure that it’s completely deleted.”

There is a cult of collecting and hoarding data in the technology industry, particularly among social media companies. There is a belief that the more data they have on you, the more they can control you and sell stuff to you.

“I’m not sure that what I did 10 years ago is still useful,” Virginie said. “I’m sure that our behavior is still evolving. There is a principle in the zero waste way of life that if there is something in your closet that you haven’t used in the last three years, you will never use it again. And I think it’s the same for digital. What is the need to keep all the data from me from 10 years ago? There is no use.”

It's good to see France showing that there is a different way to approach digital. “The government decided to commit all the public sector to sustainable IT,” Virginie explained. “They are working for this with the Institute for Sustainable IT. We have companies that are innovating in this space. For example, in Paris we have a swimming pool whose water is heated from the heat coming from servers in a data center that is connected to the pool. We have also lots of companies involved in the second-hand IT market. We have a lot of the pieces but we’re still waiting for another stakeholder, the Big Tech companies, Microsoft or Google or IBM. I remember three years ago I was in the US and I was talking with a guy and he said we are really waiting for France and Europe to push these things because as Americans we can’t do it because we have a very big part of the economy linked into the current model.”

Modern tech is an accelerant of the climate crisis. Data is the new oil and we’re adding massive amounts of data oil to the fire. We must manage technology so that it genuinely supports sustainability. Right now, technology’s core purpose seems to be to create more addicts for a mass-consumer, convenience-obsessed, waste-producing cult of surveillance capitalism.