In the past, we countered a mid-life crisis by buying a new sports car, changing a hairstyle or making-over our wardrobes. (When I turned 36 I just had to have a Ferrari – so I bought one!) Successful in our careers and young at heart, we were determined to enjoy the best of both worlds: the wisdom of experience and the adventurous, sometimes reckless spirit of youth. Could modern times cause us to take more drastic measures when reinventing our identities- mid life or mid career?

Google boss, Eric Schmidt, thinks so. He recently warned that one day people may need to change their names to escape their previous online activity. That means when you’re ready to take the next step in your career-to accelerate towards peak earning power and position-the online behavior of your younger years could come back to bite you in the butt!¬†Binge drinking posted on YouTube, semi-naked photos posted on Facebook-Schmidt told the Wall Street Journal he feared people-especially young people-did not fully understand the consequences of having so much personal information online. A new start-up service could prove he is right.

Social Intelligence Corp. is taking the traditional background checks commonly used by human resource departments to look for things like criminal records, and applying them online to track social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, LinkedIn and blogs.

The background screening services market generates some $3 billion in annual revenue, which just goes to show how valuable it is for employers to know where their potential employees are coming from.

Social Intelligence takes applicant or employee information provided by employers and uses its own software to search the web for user-generated content related to this individual. The resulting data is reviewed manually by Social Intelligence analysts and a report is compiled, yielding only the information the employer has requested, filtering out legally sensitive findings such as sexual orientation, race, religion, etc.

Operating as a consumer reporting agency, Social Intelligence insists its social network screening process complies with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Companies can already access credit scores, criminal records and medical history, not only for the sake of assessing risks to employers, but also health insurers, mortgage lenders, banks, etc. Privacy advocates have been losing battles for years, but the ethics of undertakings, like Social Intelligence, are certain to be scrutinized.

“You cannot believe the things that we see. The amount of references to drugs and alcohol and the amount of provocative photos and the things that people say is jaw dropping,” says Social Intelligence chief executive Max Drucker. “People that we see that are applying for jobs that have this kind of really incriminating information out there.”

Drucker argues that publicly-traded companies should know if and how employees are talking about them on the web, or how employee online behavior may reflect on the company as a whole. He rightfully points out that companies are undeniably going to search the web to investigate prospective employees.

For that reason, services specializing in “cleaning up” Internet profiles are also coming into existence. Yet social media consultant Suw Charman-Anderson argues that social attitudes toward personal content on the web need to change.

“There’s always a lag between the introduction of new technology and the development of a set of social norms around the behavior that the technology encourages,” she says. “As a society, we are just going to have to become a bit more forgiving of the follies of youth.”

We also need to educate ourselves and today’s youth on the full consequences of making personal information public. Posting to social media is doing precisely that-publicly publishing personal information. Sometimes unflattering information is published through no fault of our own, but through the posts of friends or associates. Still, it is our responsibility to monitor to the best of our ability what is getting out there. Depending on what we publish, we could be facing-or Facebooking-a major mid-life, mid-career crisis.


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