South by SouthwestData
Before you talk about the Birds and the Bees, talk about Data

Privacy, cyber security, and data collection have been much discussed at SXSW, but what about the content that we are freely posting across social networks everyday—what measures are we taking to protect ourselves?

As we get deeper into our professional careers and find we start to accept co-workers, our boss and even clients as “friend”’ on Facebook, we begin to question whether we should post that photo from last night’s party.

But what about our children. What is being done to educate them on data permanence?

At SXSW this weekend, Google’s Jared Cohen suggested that kids’ online selves are growing up far faster than their physical bodies are. Parents should therefore have the data permanence conversation with their children even before the sex conversation.

They need to understand that there is no undo or delete button on the Internet—that Tweet will live on in the newsfeed indefinitely—and content is becoming more searchable and therefore more immediately available.

We’ve seen the trend of young people turning to platforms such as Snapchat, which entices users with the promise that the message will completely disappear (and be deleted from the Snapchat server) once viewed. But it is naïve to think that there is no risk of someone taking a quick screenshot and re-posting a potentially incriminating or embarrassing photo.

Julian Assange dialed in via Skype and served as a reminder of the fact that even the most high profile and sensitive material can’t be hidden. Assange took this further by stating that the ability to surveil everyone on the planet is almost here. While this does take things to the extreme, it ought to remind us of the accountability we face in all that we do.

We have seen high profile people in the entertainment or political worlds falling victim to stories being dredged up from a past long forgotten. Again, this is an extreme example, but the reality is that an employer at a Fortune 500 company is not going to risk recruiting a recent college graduate who clearly doesn’t know how to present themselves in what is now a public-facing online world.

Our online reputations need to be considered from early on, and it is the responsibility of adults—teachers, parents, the creators of social platforms themselves—to educate young people on data permanence. That’s a new reality born out of the digital age, and it’s one that demands our attention.

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