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So much for 'youthful indiscretion'

Dec 2, 2013 - By Randy Tucker

What's the point anymore when everything we do is recorded and stored digitally, somewhere, just waiting for the right (or wrong) moment to emerge?

"Youthful indiscretion" is a phrase you don't hear as often as you once did.

The advent of the Internet a couple of decades ago, and the more recent assaults on privacy in the name of "security" have reduced the need for the phrase to explain away embarrassing moments from the past. What's the point anymore? Everything you've ever done is stored digitally somewhere, just waiting for the right (or wrong) moment to emerge.

It's the rare person who makes the claim that he or she would do it all over again just as like the first time. More than likely, you and everyone you know or perhaps will ever meet have an incident or two you would like to forget.

We used to look past a lapse of judgment made in the teenage years or in the two or three years immediately after, but with the sudden surge in electronic eavesdropping, that's no longer the case.

As a technology director, one of my least favorite duties involved doing background checks on prospective employees. A few school districts even had accounts with online search engines dedicated to revealing a person's credit, criminal and civil history.

These were powerful programs that listed in detail the cars owned, speeding tickets incurred, court decisions, marriages and divorces -- almost everything in a person's life that gets recorded either lawfully by some civic process or not so legally by agencies selling personal data to just such search engines.

Add to that the ever-increasing tally your own government keeps on you. If you've ever voted, had a driver or hunting license, expressed an opinion publicly or, heaven forbid, written your opinion in a letter to the editor or on a blog, you probably are being watched.

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you,

Employers routinely check social media websites to learn about prospective employees. Many a job seeker has lost the chance at their dream position because someone found a photo from back in college with the person passed out or pouring down prodigious amounts of beer in various stages of undress.

All employers want someone with experience, but not necessarily that kind of experience.

If you think these warnings of intrusions into your personal life are just exaggerations and not to be taken seriously, all you have to do is check your mail after you make an online or even a regular catalogue purchase. Suddenly you're getting three to five catalogues a week from similar marketers. That's no accident.

How do all those extended warranty people know the manufacturers' warranty is about to expire on your car or truck? That's easy. The dealer you purchased the car from, the financial institution that lent you the money, or both, sell that information to online data brokers.

In turn, these data brokers sort the incredible amount of information they receive into groups associated with key terms. If tyouryour name, address, phone number or e-mail address is associated with one of those terms, the marketing floodgates open.

Buy a shirt, ammunition or a power tool online, and count the number of glossy flyers and once-in-a-lifetime offers filling your mailbox a few weeks later. This is just business as usual in our capitalistic society. It's really nothing new, just a different methodology on the age-old process of persuading people to buy something they really don't need. Throw away this unwanted mail the second it arrives. Hang up or don't answer the phone (thanks, caller ID), or set your Internet spam filter to delete solicitous e-mail. No one makes you read it, and, in the case of the mail the garbage truck will take it away in a few days.

You can't do the same thing once your digital footprint is established in more insidious ways.

Credit card and online fraud are well known, but character assassination via the web is not so easy to find and eradicate.

Inaccuracies abound on the Internet. TV commercials even play on the na´ve nature of many people when they snidely say, "It must be true, I saw it on the Internet."

A sad trend in some providers is the use of social media as a primary source in purportedly professional news agencies. The world of online "news" is already slanted beyond comprehension. Many sites claim to be the "voice" of a city, a county or even a state and then use blogs, posts and tweets as verification in a news story with no journalistic standards at all.

Until last week I thought it was simply amateurs playing reporter that used this methodology, but I noticed a mainstream newspaper in the state using Twitter as verification on a story.

The media are changing, but the rules of verification and providing factual information should not. In the end it the process will devolve into just another gossip site largely devoid of fact but full of innuendo and deception.

The indiscretion of youth will pale in comparison to the damage this type of media can, and already, has inflicted.

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Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retied educator.

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