The Internet archives: Gen-Y, don't send that email.

The Internet archives: Gen-Y, don't send that email.

Summary: We're perhaps a little too easy with sharing information these days.

TOPICS: Mobility, Security, PCs

Meeting a friend for coffee, we began the usual, socially acceptable ritual of small-talk. I asked him how his day went, and was work alright? To my surprise, the friend in question began to colour, and stammered that no, in fact,  he'd been marched into the manager's office for a heavy round of chastisement.

The terrible deed in question? No, he wasn't hogging the photocopier or stealing stationary, nor did he make inappropriate remarks or overtures to a colleague. Instead, it was a number of emails he'd sent from his work outbox, aimed at his fiance, rather than the saucer-wide eyes of his boss.

What I pointedly remember about this conversation was the fact that the friend, another member of the Generation Y, was most annoyed at the fact the company had been "prying" into his emails -- rather than the discovery of the content itself.

On a larger scale, modern scandals in business and politics are littered with the same stories -- but generally with more severe consequences. As Tech2 reported, ousted CEO Bob Diamond of Barclays bank said he felt "physically ill" reading past emails of his traders who were conniving to manipulate interested rates in the United Kingdom. These saved messages, speaking of champagne and glory through the illegal activity, came back to haunt the veteran banker. 


Whether it is an individual, public figure or corporation, the same mistake seems to be made time and time again. Anything electronic, whether typed in confidence or hidden behind privacy settings, can rear its ugly head hours, days or years later. 

The Barclays scandal is one example. However, wire-tapping, disastrous Tweets, screenshot conversations and inappropriate Facebook photos or YouTube videos all litter the public domain -- and with a single click or phone call, a career can crumble to dust.

It seems that the more reliant we become on the convenience of technology, the less privacy we give ourselves. Emails, social networking, texts or phone calls -- all of this relies on a central communication structure. What is considered acceptable "prying" or surveillance changes with the political environment, but the data available remains solid. John Bassett, a former senior official at British signals intelligence agency GCHQ told Tech2:

"E-mail, Twitter, texting and the rest all intuitively feel like short fuse ephemeral communications - a quick word in passing, if you will. Yet as soon as we push the send button, these communications take on an enduring digital permanence that means that in effect they never quite go away."

Wikileaks is a great example of how confidential data, lifted, stolen, copied or dredged up from a server, can be released into the public domain. However, it is not just criminal activity that can result in disastrous consequences; firms may be legally obliged to hand over electronic data or individual identities -- and perhaps it is that single, self-inflicted, idiotic mistake of posting a public Facebook status about your boss that sees you handed your P45. 

Staying off the grid is difficult, when modern-day lifestyles are crammed with social networks, emails, smartphones and personal computers. In the end, telephone calls can be tapped, emails logged, Skype communication may be recorded by the recipient, and social networking photos and messages -- whether deleted or not -- screensaved, exchanged and stored on servers. 

Businesses are beginning to realize this, but perhaps the next generation hasn't quite caught up yet. Once you enter the workplace -- and in some cases, even before you enter university -- the digital footprint you leave is often checked. 

Public or not, anything you type or say may eventually find the light of day. 

How do we avoid this? Avoid the data trail. Perhaps, on occasion, consider meeting someone face-to-face, or save private matters for a coffee shop instead of Skype. Malicious, harmful, dubious or illegal communication exchanged digitally may seem safe enough in your email inbox, but it takes little more than a forward on the exchange to wreak havoc.

The simple rule that needs to be understood by the Generation Y, and those that follow, is that digital communication is not transient. It doesn't degrade, it isn't necessarily forgotten, and it is intrinsically vulnerable. If you've something to say that you would prefer to remain unrecorded, consider seriously before writing it down.

It may not be as convenient as using your iPhone to text, but it may save you embarrassment in the long run.

Image credit: CNET


Topics: Mobility, Security, PCs

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • You guys need to stop blaming specific generations for stuff like this

    When in reality...people in general are just dumb. I'm surprised half the population can even put on pants the correct way.
    • Perhaps smarts has less to do with it...

      Haha, well it's like my dad always used to say when I was in high school. "Take a look around your classroom. Each and every kid in your class will one day have a drivers license." scary huh?

      But I think education is to blame as well, most people, including some very smart people, have no clue how computers and programs work. To them its all magic, because they can't see it happening. This leads to misconceptions that include things like trusting that facebook will always protect your conversations and privacy, or that mac's are impervious to viruses or an email system is "private" simply because you are only sending the email to a specific person.
      Either people need to learn what's happening behind the screen, or things like this will keep happening.
  • handed your P45

    And for those of us not in the UK this is what?
  • So shall we retreat to the stone age?

    Your article says, "digital communication is not transient. It doesn't degrade, it isn't necessarily forgotten, and it is intrinsically vulnerable. If you've something to say that you would prefer to remain unrecorded, consider seriously before writing it down." The same may be said of communication on paper. It isn't transient. Voices? Does your co-conversant or someone in the neighborhood have a recorder? Ultimately, as Ben Franklin said, "Three may keep a secret if two are dead." In other words, to communicate is to share, and it always allows for the possibility that the shared information may be intercepted by someone external to the conversation.
  • Tell me again . . .

    Tell me again . . . why is BYOD a good idea? Yeah, that's gonna make this problem 10x worse.

    Do business stuff at your business and do your personal stuff off the clock.

    Ignore ZDNet's constant (and wrong) claim that personal and business life is and should be merging. Because, at the end of the day, you don't answer to ZDNet - you answer to your boss. And your boss very likely wants you to keep them very separate. And your boss doesn't read ZDNet.
  • lol

    The irony is, most business actually have Acceptable Use Policies that you must sign and agree to before you began to utilize the company computers. This includes a warning, typically, that can can be monitored. Be wary of what you type in your emails, Lync, or what websites you access. As the article says, it WILL come back to haunt you.
  • It's actually become easier to avoid this

    Who has only one email account these days? At the least there is usually your work email and something like a Gmail account, and with portable devices, especially tablets, being fully functioning, easy to use communication devices, who really needs to use the company's email account for sending sweet nothings to his fiance when a tablet or smartphone is lying right there? Also, at this point in time, you have to be really pretty dense to not know the no-no's with company email.