The AP reports today on the increasing concern over the lack of privacy online, particularly on social networking sites. This isn’t a new issue, but it’s getting more attention, as it should. The gist of their recommendations is that if you get into trouble it’s your own fault, but I think that’s only half of the story. Some excerpts:
“Everyone at this point — even if it hasn’t happened to them — has heard about someone who’s gotten in trouble at school, with a parent, a coach, because of something that’s been posted online,” says Susannah Stern, an assistant professor of communication studies at the University of San Diego who studies young people’s online habits.
“They’re now more conscious that information they post online can be used in ways they didn’t intend it to be,” she says. “And I think this awareness is healthy — for adults or kids.”
Today, the rule of thumb is: If it’s in the public domain, it’s fair game.
Jeff Krakauer, human resources director for the legal services company Juriscape in Pasadena, Calif., says he recently began looking at social-networking profiles — especially for candidates for whom he’s “on the fence.”
So far, what he’s seen hasn’t swayed him one way or another.
“But if something was really wild and way out there, it would cause me some concern,” he says.
Hearing more stories like those prompted career counsellors at the University of Dayton to survey employers in their database about their use of Facebook. They found that 42 per cent of the 326 who responded said they would consider factoring a Facebook profile into their hiring decisions. Some of those employers also said they’d already rescinded offers because of things they’d discovered online.
“I do think it’s an invasion of privacy,” says Melissa Bush, a business major at the University of Dayton. “But when you think about it, anything you post online is open season.”
When she interviewed for an internship last summer, her interviewer told her upfront that they’d be checking her Facebook profile. She didn’t worry because she’s careful about what she posts — but lately, she’s been deleting messages from friends that she deems inappropriate.
“If you don’t want people to read it, don’t post it,” Bush says. “If you don’t want people to see a video, don’t post it.”
Link: globeandmail.com: A little too public?.
I’m surprised that employers are so quick to admit that they search for personal information about applicants online. In the US, anti-discrimination laws are very strict — there are many things you can’t ask about an applicant, such as marital/family status, age, national or ethnic origin, religion, and disabilities (source: Yahoo HotJobs).
What are these employers looking for? When they search on Facebook, MySpace, or even Google, they’re more likely than not to find personal information. So unless the job is related to online services or media, for example, then what relevant information are they hoping to find? And aren’t they setting themselves up for claims of discrimination by conducting undisciplined searches like this? I would expect employers to start being more careful about this by limiting the searches they allow, or by allowing only third parties to do background checks so that irrelevant information doesn’t factor into hiring decisions.
It’s certainly unwise to put embarrassing information about yourself online, and we all bear responsibility for this, but not everything online should be fair game to employers. We need to develop guidelines to respect privacy and discourage discrimination online in hiring practices.