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It's important to realize that nothing is anonymous on the net.

Internet career killers come in three forms: the distasteful, then unethical, and the illegal. Let's take a look at all three and how to avoid them.


Acting in ways that are merely distasteful can cost you your job, an important client, or hurt your reputation. The most obvious mistake is the most widely reported - inappropriate content on social networking sites. Without belaboring the obvious, if you wouldn't show your senior partner or your client a picture, then you shouldn't post it to your Facebook account either. Sooner or later, they will see it. Increasingly, however, other online activities thought to be anonymous are becoming public. Consider the case of Netflix. In an effort to improve the DVD rental company's movie recommendations, Netflix set up a contest awarding $1 million to the person or group that could come up with the best system. To facilitate the process, the company released anonymous records of online movie rentals. This seemed like a good idea until a pair of statisticians at the University of Texas used the records to conclusively identify customers and match them to their video rentals. This scenario involved data mining - taking data obtained legally and correlating it to identify individuals and create profiles of their online behavior. But even when companies don't release anonymous information, your online habits can be ferreted out by hackers looking to obtain credit card information. Another threat to your anonymity online comes from language analysis which can be used to presumptively match a person's writing to that contained in an anonymous post. As this kind of analysis becomes more common, it becomes increasingly important to your career to say and do nothing online that you would be embarrassed to do in front of your friends and colleagues.

While distasteful acts may get you fired, unethical ones can cost you your license or earn other disciplinary actions. Most firms monitor outgoing emails. Instant messaging programs and email are susceptible to keystroke loggers and other forms of hacking. Betraying a confidence in an email to a friend or colleague is no different than doing it face to face, and the fact that you're using encrypted software may not help you. Four years ago an attorney in a wrongful death case emailed a picture of the naked body of the deceased along with his own lewd comments to a friend. His firm, which monitored outbound email, reported him to the disciplinary counsel where he faced sanctions. This type of ethical blunder is increasing and will cost many good lawyers their careers.

More dangerous to your career are things that will put you on the wrong side of the defense table in court. Crackdowns on illegal piracy of music and videos have grown in recent years. ISP's are increasingly willing to cooperate with both public and private investigations into piracy. Large copyright holders often introduce dummy files onto file sharing networks in order to obtain the ip addresses of those attempting to download them. There is an ever increasing number of cases being brought for libel as a result of things posted online, oftentimes anonymously. Getting caught up in this kind of activity could end your career or worse, no matter how anonymous you may think you are.


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