“A Free Background Check for Every Applicant” by Nick

“A Free Background Check for Every Applicant” by Nick!

Unanswered’s own Nicolas Papaconstantinou has been thinking aloud on his blog, and it has some pertinence to our discussion about privacy on Show 15.

Nick wonders how we’ve come to accept informal snooping into the parts of our personal lives we choose to share online as A Thing That Happens Now when looking for work. If we wouldn’t accept actually being followed around as we go about our private lives, how is it fine to lurk amongst our digital shadows?

…how is it okay for an employer to Google an applicant or look at their Facebook account and use information they see there, existing outside of a working context, to inform their decision about whether or not they will employ that person?

I’m not strictly talking about those cases, often reported in the media or shared in offices as hilarious cautionary tales with black-and-white causality, of hapless applicants writing criminal nonsense on their Twitter account, or Facebook galleries full of photos of them getting drunk and disorderly in University bars with their friends. However, these are worth addressing.

My stance on the former is: if the things they are writing are actually criminal, we already have a legal system that can penalise them quite effectively.

On the latter: yes, most places have some sort of public decency clause in their employment contracts, and employers want to protect themselves from “bad” public behaviour, but here we’re faced with the conflict between what is possible or not possible, and what is right or wrong… The “real world” analogue of Googling somebody—seeing what they’ve left out in the digital wild about themselves—is following them on the street; seeing what they do out in public or pseudo-public where anyone can see. Resources-wise, the social internet makes one a matter of a couple of minutes and a half-dozen easy searches, while the other is far more labour intensive, but the goal and result are pretty much the same.

If that analogue is right, can it be inferred that the reason companies don’t do this in meatspace, and didn’t do it before the social internet, is because it wasn’t practical, rather than because it’s actually a bit icky and outside the bounds of what an organisation should be doing?

Food for thought and a read which is absolutely worth your time.


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