As a child of the internet guinea-pig generation, I have a moderate data trail that --although not particularly embarrassing-- I wish I had some way to erase. These days I know a little bit better, and have a supply of pseudonyms in use. The knowledge that once my data is out there is a constant reminder that, no matter what the fine print that no one reads next to the "I Accept" button might say, nothing belongs to me once it is posted on the internet. Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and so forth) has created a space where far too many people let their guard down. By "Friending" or "Grouping" or "Following" other users, it creates a sense of privacy and control over your internet self that is misleading at best.
In reality it is a system in which you use what amounts to an interactive email platform to talk to people you already talk to in Real Life and people you met briefly at a party but weren't interested in enough to get a phone number. In exchange the platform overlords use what they know about you (because you have succumbed to the very human narcissism that is creating a profile) and your friends and your location and your registered Likes in order to decide which ads to put on your screen. Then, when the third parties got involved and started making games and trivia and secret questions your friends can answer about you? Suddenly there are gift cards on sale at VoldeMart for online games in which you pay real money for virtual objects that can be endlessly replicated.
I still post pictures on media sites. I blog inconsistently, and I micro-blog, and I post updates and one-liners to a collection of friends and acquaintances and lesser-known randoms and people from work who are only there out of a sense of obligation. There are upsides, such as the old teachers and childhood friends I wouldn't otherwise have any contact with. But why do I need it? I don't fit in their lives anymore and reading about theirs is interesting but irrelevant. It's like following a reality star, albeit one I once knew in real life and who is unlikely to crash a premiere. Every once in awhile I realize that even with my lame attempts at internet self-preservation in place, I am only digging myself deeper into the hole of lost data.
I had friends who weren't on any media. They had email, maybe one fake profile on the internet they never used. I was jealous of their anonymity. Who has that kind of restraint? One by one they fell prey. I can find them all online now.
My point? I'm not sure. I'm as guilty as everyone else. Maybe my point is to talk to your kids, early and often, now that we know the dangers of the internet. Not just about the perverts and the RIAA, but also that every piece of themselves that they place online is a piece they will never get back. Remember that there are endless ways to mine data now and they are only the beginning of an entire generation trained to operate with one foot in the internet at all times. Check your social media privacy settings as often as you can, and if you want to be the first to play with a promising new site, don't let them know who you really are. Does this sound like a cut & paste chain letter you would expect to find on some obscure friend's status message? Maybe. It's late and I'm probably being verbose with my conspiracies. Unfortunately it's true. Don't be scared to use the internet for your own advantage, just be premeditated and know that the internet is using you right back. In the future, the only thing you can own is what you don't put on the internet.