Most of the materials that are currently available on the Net and can be easily found through many search engines were created for other media, by people who were not aware that these materials may ever end up on the Web.
Sometimes, it comes as an unpleasant surprise to a person who looks for web pages referencing his own name, and finds, among other things, many of his explicit or controversial usenet or mailing list messages, old resumes that may contradict the current one, critical remarks of his high school girlfriend and former colleagues, etc. Knowing that this information is easily accessible to his new girlfriend and prospective employer may make him more than uncomfortable.
All advice to such a person you may see on the Net mentions Net laws that should have been passed and personal actions that should or should not have been taken.
In both cases, it's usually too late.
Fortunately, not that many people have been burned. We can bury them (or their reputations) and move ahead, vowing not to repeat their mistakes. From now on we, the prudent ones, will be very careful not to leave compromising traces where they can be uncovered by existing technologies and made public.
It's called "learning from other people's mistakes".
- No, it isn't !
The mistake those people made was not leaving traces that could be made public with then existing technologies. It was doing things that could be uncovered by technologies (like search engines) that at the time did not exist.
If you want to learn from these mistakes, you should look at what information about yourself you are leaving behind that can be made public tomorrow.
Let's look at what traces you leave.
I do not want to consider time travelers from the future watching your life. - Just some already available technologies that are on the rise and will be cheap and ubiquitous tomorrow.
Besides thousands of your personal letters and documents, they contain data on the evolution of your intelligence, handwriting, habits such as nail-biting, samples of hair that you washed with different shampoos (or didn't) and millions of discarded little things identifiable by your writing, fingerprints or DNA samples. One may figure out where you drank a cup of Coke 30 years ago, and who you shared it with.
And so on.
The technology necessary to recover and index all this data is already available and will become very cheap in a few decades.
How can people protect themselves from all this?
Will people of the future all wear identical privacy suits, gloves and helmets and burn everything they have touched?
Or they will just try not to do things they may later be ashamed of? (How do you know what you may be ashamed of 30 years from now?)