Two US Senators Voice Privacy Concerns Over Background Check Firm Storing Web Footprints of Consumers for Employment Screening

Concerned that social media background checks may invade the privacy of consumers and raise legal issues, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Al Franken (D-Minnesota) have sent a letter requesting information to an employment screening firm, Social Intelligence Corp., that locates, reviews, and stores data from the “Web and social media footprints” of consumers for up to seven years to give employers information about job applicants, according to a press release ‘Blumenthal, Franken Call on Social Intelligence Corp to Clarify Privacy Practices’ on Senator Blumenthal’s website.

In their letter to Social Intelligence CEO Max Drucker (full text available here), Senators Blumenthal and Franken write: “According to sample background reports published in the media, information is collected from applicants’ profiles on social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, personal websites, and other online information sources that Social Intelligence Corporation matches to applicants. We are concerned that there are numerous scenarios under which a job applicant could be unfairly harmed by the information your company provides to an employer. We are also concerned that your company’s business practices may in some cases violate the law.”

Senators Blumenthal and Franken also request that the company answer several questions concerning the accuracy of information, the right of consumers to online privacy, and Terms of Service and intellectual property violations. These questions include:

  • How does the company determine the accuracy of the information it provides to employers?
  • Does the company have procedures in place for applicants to dispute information contained in the reports?
  • Is the company able to differentiate among applicants with common names?
  • Is the company able to determine whether information it finds on a website is parody, defamatory, or otherwise false?
  • Does the company require the consent of a job applicant before conducting a background check on the applicant?
  • Has the company ever endeavored to access a user’s restricted information by joining the user’s network of “friends” on sites like Facebook?
  • If the company conducts multiple background checks on an applicant, to what extent does it reuse information it has collected in previous checks?
  • Does the company operate in compliance with the terms of service agreements that prohibit the collection, dissemination, or sale of users’ content without the consent of the user and/or the website agreements found on sites whose content the company compiles and sells?
  • With regard to intellectual property rights of users, does the company obtain permission from the owners of the pictures included in its background reports that are often licensed by owners for a narrow set of uses to use, sell, or modify them?

The full text of the letter from Senators Blumenthal and Franken is available at: http://blumenthal.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/blumenthal-franken-call-on-social-intelligence-corp-to-clarify-privacy-practice.

A Social Intelligence spokesman quoted in the article ‘Senators have privacy issues with background screening firm’ from the Hillicon Valley Technology blog on TheHill.com said via email that: “We welcome the opportunity to clear-up any concerns Senators Blumenthal and Franken may have about our business.”

According to the company’s website, Social Intelligence “lets employers and hiring professionals reap the benefits of using social media in making hiring decisions, without the legal risks,” and is “a fully compliant consumer reporting agency (CRA) operated in adherence with federal, state, and local employment laws as well as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).”

In a previous article, ‘Social Intelligence Corporation Can Keep Your Social Trail for 7 Years,’ CEO Drucker said the company looks for four types of content in a background check, and that 5 to 10 percent of background checks receive “flags” for at least one of the following types of content:

  • Racially insensitive remarks,
  • Sexually explicit materials,
  • Flagrant displays of weaponry, and
  • Other demonstrations of clearly illegal activity

Employment Screening Resources (ESR) – a nationwide background check firm accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®) – has noted in articles that performing social media background checks can be risky, and can impact discrimination issues, privacy, use of legal off duty conduct, as well as raise issues as to authenticity and identity. On the other hand, failure to perform some form of social media screening also can create liability and lead to allegations of negligent hiring. ESR has recommended best practices for employers that choose to do these searches in-house.

For more information about social media background checks, read the ESR article ‘Social Media Background Checks Conducted by Consumer Reporting Agencies Subject to Same Fair Credit Reporting Act Rules’ reprinted from the NAPBS Journal for July/August 2011 at http://www.esrcheck.com/ESR-NAPBS-Journal-Social-Media-Background-Checks-Article.php. ESR will also be releasing a white paper on the subject of using social media background checks for employment screening in the near future.

To read more articles from Employment Screening Resources (ESR) about the use of Search Engines, Social Media, and Social Networking Sites for background checks, visit http://www.esrcheck.com/articles/#Networking.

About Employment Screening Resources (ESR):
Employment Screening Resources (ESR) literally wrote the book on background screening with “The Safe Hiring Manual” by ESR founder and CEO Lester Rosen. ESR streamlines the screening process and reduces administrative overhead though its proprietary technology solutions.  ESR is one of a select few firms accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®). This important recognition was achieved by successfully passing a third party audit demonstrating compliance with the NAPBS Background Screening Agency Accreditation Program. By choosing an accredited screening firm like ESR, employers know they have selected an agency that meets the highest industry standards. For more information about ESR, visit http://www.ESRcheck.com.

Sources:
http://blumenthal.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/blumenthal-franken-call-on-social-intelligence-corp-to-clarify-privacy-practice
http://socialmediatoday.com/steve-olenski/309371/why-number-seven-just-got-unlucky-social-media-users.
http://thehill.com/blogs/hillicon-valley/technology/182341-senators-question-privacy-practices-of-background-screening-firm.