Kashmir Hill published an article about the importance of privacy settings on social media websites in an article titled “How Embarassing/Job-Threatening Facebook Photos Are Part Of Your Job Application“. The article is reposted below:
Last week, the Federal Trade Commission gave a stamp of approval to a background check company that screens job applicants based on their Internet photos and postings. The FTC determined that Social Intelligence Corp. was in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This means a search of what you’ve said or posted to Facebook/Twitter/Flickr/blogs and the Internet in general may become a standard part of background checks when you apply for a job.
No big deal, right? You already knew that employers were Googling you. I argued this was actually better, because Social Intelligence has to make sure its clients inform job applicants if they took adverse action based on something found on the Internet. That way you can delete and change privacy settings accordingly.
But there’s a wrinkle. If something job-threatening pops up on Facebook or Flickr or Craigslist in a search of you, Social Intelligence puts it into your file — and it stays there for seven years.
Update (6:47 p.m) — Social Intelligence has an important clarification: COO Geoffrey Andrews sent me a statement via email this evening explaining that negative findings are kept on file but are not reused when a new employer runs a check on you:
While we store information for up to seven years we do not “reuse” that information for new reports. Per our policies and obligations under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, we run new reports on applicants on each new search to ensure the most accurate and up-to-date information is utilized, and we store the information to maintain a verifiable chain-of-custody in-case the information is ever needed for legal reasons. We are not however building a “database” on individuals that will be evaluated each time they apply for a job and potentially could be used adversely even if they have cleaned up their profiles.
Social Intelligence had sent me some of the reports they’ve provided to employers so far, including a job applicant who had a photo on a social networking site that featured multiple guns and a sword, and another who was designated racist for joining the Facebook group, “I shouldn’t have to press 1 for English. We are in the United States. Learn the language.” Social Intelligence’s “negative” findings will stay in the files of Workplace-Shooting-Waiting-To-Happen and No-Hablo-Espanol for seven years per the requirements of FCRA, though new employers who run searches through Social Intelligence won’t have access to the materials if they are completely removed from the Internet. (That last sentence has been rewritten since the original post per an update from the company. The service actually seems less useful now, though more respectful of the rights of job applicants.)
“We store records for up to 7 years as long as those records haven’t been disputed,” says Social Intelligence COO Geoffrey Andrews by email. “If a record is disputed and changed then we delete the disputed record and store the new record when appropriate.”
The company limits its searches to what’s publicly available, mining data from, in Andrews’s words, “social networking websites (i.e., Facebook and others), professional networking websites (i.e., Linked In and others), blogs, wikis, video and picture sharing websites, etc.).” And a job applicant must acknowledge and approve the use of a social media background screen, just as they would a criminal and credit background check.
You should always be wary of posting job-threatening content on the Internet. It’s hard to erase something once it gets out there. But now that there’s a company that specializes in capturing this and putting it into a file, it may be even harder to undo the damage wrought by an unwise tweet or Craigslist posting. Handle your share/tweet/post buttons with care, and perhaps think about tools to protect you from sharing potentially humiliating and unemployment-guaranteeing material.
This was originally posted in Forbes’ blog last June 20th. For the original post, click here.
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