I hope you know this will go down on your permanent record

December 17th, 2015

When I was a kid, adults in power would threaten us with a thing called a “permanent record.” It was the sleight of hand used after we stopped believing in Santa. A ruse to keep misfits and miscreants in line. I was lead to imagine it as a folder of wrongdoings, maliciously curated in chronological order by frustrated grownups. Handed from teacher to teacher and then employer to employer before making its way into the briefcase of an opposing divorce lawyer. The line’s usage was immortalized in the 1983 suicide anthem Kiss Off by the Violent Femmes.

"I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record!" purred lead singer Gordon Gano. "Oh, yeah? Well, don’t get so distressed. Did I happen to mention that I’m impressed?" he scowled sarcastically into my 16-year-old ears.

The internet, indexing, and cheap storage have unwittingly conspired to make the mythical permanent record a reality. Words written on Twitter and Facebook will echo forever. Instagrams and Vines that seemed innocent at the time will be discovered years later by astonished college admissions officers and dismayed Fortune 100 recruiters. It’s no wonder then that the EU is in the process of raising the legal age of social internetting to 16-years old for any countries choosing to do so. It’s no wonder that privacy was the topic du jour in 2015 for companies like Apple looking to put space between it and Google.

If parents are unwilling (or unable) to help teens understand the importance of privacy then sometimes the only safety net for children comes in the form of private businesses and governments. The same companies clamoring for more personal data in order to provide us with more personalized services; and the same governments who, in the name of security, are desperate to build permanent records on its populace.

Does that sound like a reasonable trade-off to you?

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