Your Past Matters

Digital Tracking

I know that we’re living in the age of information, but sometimes it weirds me out just how much our reputations can follow us these days. It seems like everything we post online and everything we do in our private lives can be discovered somehow, and that our future employers and others will find out. Experts, how can I make sure that my decisions now don’t affect my future?

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the ways in which we are tracked in the modern world. However, it’s also important to understand that our decisions and our pasts have always mattered--and that our mistakes can cost us for a long time.

A background check has been a part of hiring processes for a long time, say experts in research and people information. The same is true of rental agreements. And individuals can find background checks useful, too: in a world full of online apps that connect us with strangers, it can be important to know just whom you’re really meeting or entrusting a task to.

So, for a moment, let’s put aside the potential dangers of modern tracking and information systems and remind ourselves that inappropriate behavior and comments, crimes, and other things that can resurface in the future are, first and foremost, wrong. It is up to each of us to live in moral and decent ways. It’s also up to us to keep potentially embarrassing things about our personal lives off of our social media accounts. After all, much of the modern world’s ability to track us is self-inflicted: if a reprehensible social media post of yours costs you a job, you have only yourself to blame. And since 70% of employers are looking at job candidates’ social media accounts, losing a job over a dumb post is a very real possibility.

Now, this is not to say that there aren’t legitimate reasons to be concerned about our digital footprints and records even if we are well-behaved citizens. While there’s no excuse for complaining about a background check turning up a crime, you’d be forgiven for raising an eyebrow when a Google executive recommends that future generations change their names to dodge their online footprint!

We’ll leave the political debate up to you. But you should know that there are things that you can do to minimize the ways in which your movements are tracked. Your smartphone and other mobile devices allow you to deny apps permissions and turn off geographic tracking features. Proxies and VPNs can mask your browsing on the internet.

And remember, it’s not just the good guys who are tracking you. Protect your privacy from hackers and other ill-meaning folks by keeping strong passwords and investing in things like identity theft protection services.

But above all, remember: your past matters. You can and should protect your privacy, but career-ruining revelations about criminal pasts, disturbing behavior, or appalling comments are not the result of an unfair world. They are within your control, and you should stay true to your values and manage your social media presence accordingly.

“The [person] who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely to be the one who dropped it.” — Lou Holtz

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