Added on 2 November 2023

The Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) has released its 2023 edition of the Global ‘Bit List’ of Endangered Digital Species today, on World Digital Preservation Day.

An open resource for digital preservation advocacy, the DPC's Global Bit List of Endangered Digital Species (Bit List) is a community-sourced list of at-risk digital materials which is revised every two years. Entries to the list are nominated by the community, who are at the forefront of digital preservation efforts, and entries are reviewed by the Bit List Council – a group of international organizations which represent global expertise in the preservation of the listed digital species.

In 2023, the Bit List comprises 87 entries – a marked increase from 73 in 2021. While significant new entries include ‘First Nations Secret/Sacred Cultural Material,’ several other entries have been rescoped, merged and disaggregated which has contributed to this overall increase.

Perhaps surprisingly however, only three entries demonstrate a substantive change of risk classification: ‘Shut Down or Discontinued Video Games’ is reclassified as Practically Extinct, from an earlier classification of Critically Endangered; ‘Published Research Data Appended to Journal Articles’ is reclassified as Vulnerable from an earlier classification of Endangered; and ‘Unpublished Research Data’ is reclassified as Critically Endangered from its previous classification of Practically Extinct.

“The most noticeable thing about the 2023 edition of the Bit List is actually how little has changed,” explains Dr. Amy Currie, Bit List Co-ordinator for the DPC. “The Bit List Council made only marginal changes from the recommendations in 2021 so, in this sense, the 2023 report has validated the broad conclusions of previous years, updating them rather than setting them aside. With a few honourable exceptions, there has been little or no improvement in the overall risk profile of digital assets.” 

“Taking that into account,” she continues “it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the findings of the Third Edition of the Bit List in 2021 were valid, yet its recommendations largely ignored." 

The Bit List 2023 is published in the shadow of a global pandemic, during a land war in Europe and a time of heightened tension and possible war in the Middle East. These threats to digital content coincide with a crisis of knowledge and fog of disinformation. Cyber-warfare can make battlefields and hostages of almost any connected device and data, and technical inter-dependency means that economic shocks threaten the digital memory of the world in ways we have barely begun to comprehend.

Dr. William Kilbride, Executive Director of the DPC commented on the context of the list:

“It’s been a year since we last issues the Bit List. In that year, Twitter and its communities have effectively been destroyed. It’s the year in which an American president was indicted for corruptly concealing documents and corruptly altering, destroying, mutilating, or concealing documents and records. It’s the year in which a former UK Prime Minister forgot the passcode to his phone and the messages that were stored there; and a serving UK Prime Minister defied a High Court ruling to disclose messages to a public enquiry. It’s been the year in which the Prime Minster of Cambodia deleted his Facebook Account, including live-streamed speeches threatening violence against his opponents. It’s the year in which the bombing of a hospital, apparently misreported, prevented a summit of Arab leaders with the US President in a rapidly escalating conflict.”

“We cannot afford to be complacent about the loss of bits and bytes. The preservation of authentic digital materials cannot be taken for granted, and it’s never been more essential.”

In response to apparent inertia, and within a context of heightened and heightening risk, the DPC have a number of core recommendations.

  • It calls on auditors, regulators, legislators to formulate plans that demand a higher standard of competence and attention to digital preservation in the context of regulated industries and public authorities to prevent data loss, recognizing the reputational and real harms to stakeholders, to themselves and to future generations that arise, and which are entirely avoidable.

  • It calls on courts and law enforcement to use the full extent of the law to prosecute data losses that arises from criminal negligence or malfeasance, especially those deletions that expose professional misconduct or defeat public accountability.

  • It calls on data controllers, chief technology officers and corporate audit committees to recognize that long term commitments cannot be met solely on a project basis, and therefore to fold short term and exploratory digital preservation projects into longer term strategic plans.

The 2023 Bit List report does also find cause for encouragement and reminds users that digital preservation is achievable. The ‘honourable exceptions’ to which Dr. Currie refers are two entries which have moved to lower risk classifications.  The re-classification of ‘Published Research Data Appended to Journal Articles’ and ‘Unpublished Research Data’ are based on sound and material improvements. In these and the small number of improving trends the Bit List council has been able to identify the impact of policy clarifications, and those places where effort and expertise which have been applied.

However, the report concludes, if digital preservation is possible then data loss is a choice.

Go to the Global ‘Bit List’ of Endangered Digital Species


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