Data lives Forever

It’s sometimes difficult getting kids to understand the full implications of something as seemingly harmless as putting their photo online. They often don’t realise that, just like The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, once something goes online it is near impossible to remove it. This video makes a pretty good point of showing the effect of this behaviour…

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It’s something that both children and adults need to understand well. This is a post-Google world we live in. It’s no longer unusual that an employer Googles the name of a potential hire to check their reputation and see what they have done (or equally, not done). When you go out with a new person, it’s likely that your date has Googled you, MySpaced you or FaceBooked you to get a little bit of “background” on the sort of person you are. In a digital world you leave a trail behind you, often whether you mean to or not. Forum posts, blog posts, (and the comments you make to them), online projects you’ve taken part in, occasions your name has been mentioned in various online and printed publications, photos… if it ends up online, it’s probably there and it’s probably searchable. And you’d be amazed at how you can take lots of little pieces of data to form a fairly thorough picture of someone’s activities and reputation.

This can work in your favour too of course. As I was applying for jobs recently, I was actually hoping that potential employers would Google me as there is, fortunately for me, lots of positive stuff online – lots of technology projects and events I’ve taken part in which I imagine would have been relevant and supportive to the positions I was applying for. But the point is that had there been lots of negative stuff, there would have been virtually nothing I could have done about it. Try it with your own name and see what you get… wrap your name in quote marks to get Google to search it as a single entity, and of course it helps if your name is a little bit unusual as you will probably get more relevant results.

Get your kids to try this too. I recently encouraged my students to do a vanity search on their own name and while for many it turned up nothing, others were shocked at just how easy it was for their past to be dug up. There is probably not much you can do about ending up in the Google database (or any database for that matter), and in lots of cases it could even be a positive thing, but the lesson is to be aware and be careful of what you put online about yourself.

Do this exercise with your students. It’s a lesson worth learning early because if they learn it later it may be too late.