PwC in Dublin: at centre of scandal

Last Thursday morning, the infamous PricewaterhouseCoopers email found its way into my gmail inbox, including the pictures of the unfortunate PwC recruits.

But by far the most interesting part of the email was the evidence of the epic journey it had made. Before reaching the end of the mail to find the attachment, a new list appeared: every person who had forwarded the email, every email they had forwarded it to, and their own comments of "pass it to everyone you know!"

This could be written off as childish gossip-sharing if the email addresses were not almost all company emails: a name check of high-profile financial, state-sponsored agencies and software firms – organisations, email signatures, titles, all left intact. People who work for companies who will shape our social and economic future.

"A nice big network of muppets," a friend described it.

The friend in question had resisted the urging of another friend that he send it to him for the amusement of an even wider network of muppets.

Apparently not everyone has learned from this exercise.

Written at the very end of the email, after the offending email attachment (names and photographs of the women still included) is the lonely caveat: "Private, Confidential and Privileged. This email and any files and attachments transmitted with it are confidential and/or privileged. They are intended solely for the use of the intended recipient."

Leaving aside the legal implications of repeating a libel – to which passing on this mail might expose both these individuals and their companies – the potential for reputation damage is enormous. That's why I haven't named any of the organisations involved even after the media fallout. It may seem surreal that people passing on an email, motivated at least in part by the scandal that it has generated for a po-faced accounting firm, have not made the obvious connection to what it might do to their serious state-sponsored, grey flannel financial institution or 'should know better' software firms.

It might seem surreal, but it's not. It happens all the time – on Facebook, on Twitter, visible to all and sundry – and eventually the incontinence of a generation with personal information is going to cost someone a fortune. At this time, this is a fortune none of us can afford.