Google boss Eric Schmidt reckons those embarrassing Facebook photos could mean you'll need to change your name if you ever want to work again. He warned that youthful folly and online high-jinx are so easily uncovered that you may need to re-invent your identity to escape your digital past.
That might sound rich coming from a man whose company has made billions from storing and searching personal data, but Schmidt's comments seem like an attempt to shift the focus of the privacy debate away from Google.
By warning that it's us, the feckless user, who is revealing too much with our data, he's deflecting attention away from how much information Google stores -- and whether it should. By highlighting social networks, it's also a subtle dig at Facebook, which now has more than 500 million members.
The genie is out of the bottle
in the mainstream media of whether Google knows too much, but it seems the digital generation has conceded that Google et al are going to collect and store information and we may as well live with it.
This particular genie isn't going back in the bottle, and taking responsibility for the infinite recording of our lives is the trade-off we make in order to poke, tweet and read our email on our phones.
Schmidt describes the Web as "the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy we've ever had". His warning is nonetheless an extreme -- having seen the photos, we regret the night with the hot sauce and helper monkeys down at the Queasy Duck and Watering Can, but we're not changing our name over it. We'd have to replace our monogrammed pyjamas.
You'd have to have some very embarassing pictures on Facebook to warrant changing your name. The vast majority of Web users aren't going to have a problem: we only envisage name changes being an option for inadvertent Internet celebrities, such as Star Wars kid, or someone embroiled in controversy like a high-profile court case. And on the flip side of the argument, employers would argue that the Web could reveal the real you, no matter how cleverly you cover up in an interview.
But I don't want to change my name!
The best defence is to take charge of your online presence. We suggest making sure that if an employer does search for you online, the first things they see are wholly appropriate and useful for your career, such as a LinkedIn profile, professional blog, or Twitter feed full of intelligent and non-sweary insights.
Meanwhile your Facebook photos and naughty-but-niche Tumblr are securely locked away behind privacy settings and made-up names. And think hard about what you post if you're in a job that could be considered sensitive, such as teaching, government or being the Pope.
Interestingly, Schmidt makes his comments to the Wall Street Journal, which has hit on by far the best way to make sure no-one sees its pictures and posts: it charges for them. Zing!
The kids are alright -- maybe
You can't stop your friends posting, in which case the untag button is your bestest friend. Meanwhile, the younger generation are busy posting their playground spats and pecadilloes on Bebo, Tumblr, Facebook and the rest. Psychologists have found that the younger generation is more vigilant and aware of privacy issues than oldsters. This is excellent news for employers, who can now treat online misadventures as a kind of moron filter, the same way they'd throw out a CV that was riddled with spelling errors. By the time today's yoof reach working age, photos of you dressed as Bananaman, drinking engine coolant out of a stripper's ear, will probably be the norm.
Has an employer ever checked up on you online? Have you ever decided against a potential friend, flatmate or foolin' around-buddy after checking them out on the Web? Thoughts in the comments. Or on our Facebook page -- hey, if you can't beat 'em...