Social Enterprise

Background check companies scrutinize your online presence

A background check company can drill down into your social networking practices, going so far as to make note of what you 'like' in Facebook.

I just read an article about a background check company Social Intelligence that is pretty scary. A potential employer can use this vetting company and others like it to check your background via your social networking presence. The research is so detailed that it could turn up something that you "liked" on Facebook and put it in your file, storing it for seven years. (This could put a job prospect in serious jeopardy if one of your "likes" was Recreational Arson or Bowling with Puppies.)

Social Intelligence searches everything you've said or posted to Twitter, MySpace, the Internet in general, including those rants you put on articles and blogs. This should be illegal right? Should be, but it's not. The FTC just determined that Social Intelligence Corp. is in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

I've written a lot about how increasing one's online presence can benefit an IT pro. But you'd almost have to reconsider this if every word you post is going to be noted in a dossier and most likely misconstrued by companies who look at it. And if you have a sense of humor, you can basically just call it a night, because there is no leeway with companies who don't practice a modicum of common sense.

Perhaps this service will be used for companies who only want a way of detecting people who might be problematic in a big way. Maybe they won't be looking at the notes that closely and drawing inaccurate conclusions. Maybe I'm being optimistic. What do you think?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

66 comments
NighttimeJim
NighttimeJim

I feel they have the right to a certain point to look at what they can, if they log into Facebook themselves and see your profile picture, maybe a few posts, etc. I think that's fair, we've put up to the public what we've decided to on our sites. I do believe there is an extreme, though. As you've pointed out

"you'd almost have to reconsider this if every word you post is going to be noted in a dossier and most likely misconstrued by companies who look at it."

THAT makes me uncomfortable, to think they can get every little detail that I don't even know about my own activity, things that are done on a whim because it's "home".

 
Jim  | http://www.reccare.com/

bills8091
bills8091

Wow, that is digging deep. I guess they really want to know who they are dealing with. So I suppose the best defense is just don't do anything questionable.  http://electriciankc.com/

David Chalfin
David Chalfin

Hello friend , I am David Chalfin. You write very well. I like your post and i think if all people take an action regarding all these thing only then we can control this types of crimes. Mostly people think, they have no need to take any action for any another people. They live without voice. if you want to encourage  the more people to take actions regarding these types of crimes you can visit this link br {mso-data-placement:same-cell;}http://www.lookupanyone.com/namelistings/db-chalfin.html?recordid=06WHGKYP4FT 

jbleahy
jbleahy

You know of course, that this article you just wrote will be used by social intelligence groups as an indication of your bias in future jobs you might apply for? :) This gives new meaning to the terms "Social Security", and "Socialism" And of course, my reply to your article will be slanted as some sort of bias towards Social Security and support for Socialism. Fortunately, my next job search will be looking for ones with common sense, and those who let themselves be led by McCarthyism trends I would rather not work for anyway.

DRMartin789
DRMartin789

Every time I post anything at all on the Internet, no matter where, I think to myself, "Is this something I would want millions of people to read (so that I can get rich and famous :)? If not, I don't post it. The problem is, we really need to drum this into children's heads and monitor there internet usage closely until they get it. In fact, I'm strongly in favor of parents periodically testing their children to teach them lessons about what they're posting on the internet. And start young when they still pay attention to what you tell them.

cshunt312
cshunt312

I've written a blog post that provides more in-depth discussion of the practice of social screening, particularly by third-party firms. It's entitled "Social Screening of Job Candidates: Focusing on the Facts" and can be accessed via: http://tiny.cc/SocialScreeningFacts Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community Principal, Renaissance Strategic Solutions

littlepitcher
littlepitcher

All it takes is one well-poisoner to do you dirty. I do not participate in social networking sites and I utilize several screen names to post comments. An acquaintance in another city discovered that I had a LinkedIn page which apparently assigned me to an illegal occupation, among other slanders, but had the e-mail address I use for non-personal correspondence. The acquaintance, who had an account, blocked the page. LinkedIn, though, has no contact information outside of membership. This leaves me with a cyberbullying problem which probably has spread to background reporting agencies, and no recourse with LinkedIn unless I join, and give a liar an alibi by joining. If an online presence is a "brand", then we should have absolute ownership of that brand, including which companies are allowed to own, rent, lease, or otherwise make use of that brand. It is, IMO, private property, and that is why I am inside the boundary, and social media is outside.

cshunt312
cshunt312

I first wrote about Social Intelligence and the practice of social screening last fall. It's certainly an important topic for both individuals and organizations, and because of that people should be fully informed and act based on fact rather than misinformation, misunderstanding, and knee-jerk reactions. Here's a link to my original white paper: Social Screening: Candidates - and Employers - Beware. The comments on the post include updates to the original paper, including my thoughts on the recent FTC decision: http://www.sminorgs.net/2010/10/social-screening-candidates-and-employers-beware.html Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community Principal, Renaissance Strategic Solutions

Technologyconsultant
Technologyconsultant

Welcome to the world of the "World Wide Web". Even thou you do not post anything about yourself online, your information can still be found. For a small fee of course. I will tell you this, even your information can be found off of vehicles Vin and License Plate Number. And all you need is 5 bux, and a trip to the DMV, an poof... All the information on the owner of the vehicle and their personal information. Skip tracing is what I do... So yes, any thing you do or say online will be published for the whole world to see. So be careful surfing the web. The web can benefit you in many ways, but it can ruin your life as well. Sorry, I would like to add to the conversation on the topic of E-Verify and other so-called "Free" verification software/websites that you can use to look-up an individuals crime records and so on... Well, most of the time, the free ones do not give you accurate information. The paid ones often do, but to be on the safe side, I would contact your local FBI and US Marshals office to get a more accurate back ground check. Just my two-cents....

zimmerwoman
zimmerwoman

You are being way optomistic. I don't even use my real name on Facebook. It's close enough that people who know me can find me, but far enough that if someone is searching for me, they aren't going to find me. But I'm only an IT professional in a sort of collateral way. Maybe if I were full-time IT I would have a split identity on the web. I just did a vanity search and didn't find anything except the value of my house and a review I wrote on amazon. Maybe you guys would find more.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

1) "This should be illegal, right?" Why should it be illegal? 2) Let 'em look. All they'll find are closed and minimally utilized Twitter and LinkedIn accounts with less than two pages of content on each, and my presence here. While there are a couple of less than shining moments in my years here, I don't want to work for anyone who thinks those outweigh the majority of my contributions. 3) 'Bowling with Puppies' would make an excellent name for a garage band.

Non-techie Talk
Non-techie Talk

Don't blurt it out in public, just email me privately. If you're right, I'll come back here and add a comment that identity scrutiny is pretty thorough.

AZ_IT
AZ_IT

I wonder if companies will eventually disqualify candidates based on a lack of information returned on this type of background scrutiny. If I were hiring I would be more comfortable with an outspoken, enthusiastic and possibly sometimes rude Linux supporter, Apple fan-boy or Microsoft proponent than I would be to hire someone I knew nothing about (ie. no identifiable online presence). The person with no presence has A LOT more question marks then someone I know is going to occasionally irritate or offend me because of their strong views about X,Y, and Z.

jasonemmg
jasonemmg

Exactly why many of my friends have stopped using FB,etc... and I DO NOT post any pictures of my family or write anything of importance on the internet especially FB,etc!!!!!

jasonemmg
jasonemmg

Is anyone really truly surprised by this article???? It's the same story all over again...YOU have NO PRIVACY WHEN YOU POST YOUR LIFE ON THE INTERNET REGARDLESS OF SECURITY SETTINGS!!!!!!!!

v5jayjad
v5jayjad

Seriously...people need to get a freakin' grip. Yes, its true a simple google search can turn up darn near everything you've ever said or done online in any public forum. However, where good 'ol Facebook is concerned, them there privacy settings don't exist just for the heck of it. (Well..okay...I'll concede that some of them probably DO exist just for the heck of it.) If you pay attention to what you're doing, it can be set up so NO ONE outside of your friends list can see anything you post and a google search will turn up only that yes, you do have a FB profile but nothing else, including your friends list, will show up. Certainly, if someone is determined enough to spend untold hours trying to find your friends and friend them in order to see your details, that can work, but ONLY if you don't have the security setting for allowing *only* friends to view your wall, status, etc active. The axiom of "Don't do something that might come back to bite you on the butt" works only for the logical common sense issues. Other things....LOTS of other things require a game of mental chess before doing and the reality is that 99% of people out here in interland have neither the time, nor desire to fear every little damn thing they do might cause ripples at some point down the line. What it comes down to is (For me, at least) use common sense and ignore the fear mongers who try to make everything look as though you must be a robot with no free will.

cartmit
cartmit

If you are seriously interested in adding to conversations on controlversial topics, your best bet is to follow the ancient and honorable practice followed by many of our founding fathers and other revolutionaries: use a pen name.

wwwqueen
wwwqueen

Us older folks get to say anything we want. ;) I can talk about politics, religion (if I really want to) and government misbehavior. I'm pretty much immune to their shenanigans unless they use my info to determine how much my Social Security check will be. Oops, In the current atmosphere those days may not be far off.

tarose.trevor
tarose.trevor

the kind of companies who use this kind of information to recruit for their business deserve everything they have coming to them, eg: on the one hand if they use to it choose a unique blend of special & strangely contrasting individuals that might seem like a weird combination on the surface, but when you see them work together, wow they can do amazing things... OR, on the other hand, if they use it to just hire people who fit their narrow view of who makes a good employee (which is exactly what most of them do with every other bit of information they get), then they will most likely end up with a boring workplace full of stressed out people & the whole lot of them together will never produce anything of any kind that ever inspires anyone, except of course those with equally low standards as themselves... so either way, it doesnt bother me, in the first instance I would love to join such an organisation, and in the latter I am SO glad they wont be picking me considering what an anarchist & trouble maker i appear to be to them :P ;-)

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Paige Duke is finding this out the hard way.

DRMartin789
DRMartin789

btw: Just thought I'd note that the author said they can go as far as to "make note of what you 'like' on Facebook". This doesn't necessarily mean they're recording all of your personal messages. They don't even have to access your site. For example, when I "liked" President Obama's site, as I recall, I believe a message showed up on his public site saying that I had "liked" him (no double entendre intended! :) ) which anybody can read (and I'm proud of it so I don't care). Whether or not the stuff you've said gets in there should certainly depend on your privacy settings (I would hope, anyway). The sad thing is that there are lots of kids on the internet these days obliviously doing, posting and saying really stupid stuff that can come back to haunt them when it comes time for job hunting. Other stuff like your credit rating, the value of your mortgage, etc. are a matter of public record.

2uWrangler
2uWrangler

I've found that about 80% of the stuff you see on the internet is hyperbole, advertisement(another form of hyperbole), half-truths, and outright lies. So one literally has to sift thru a ton of lies to glean an once of truth

jrhalli89
jrhalli89

If I were interviewing with a company that used 'social' data as part of the decision making process, I would hope to be passed over. Life is too short to concern oneself with how a prospective employer may judge you in the future. Mankind has never been as connected as we are today. I say be yourself and enjoy the technology because the person(s) making the hiring decisions certainly are.

chalicemedia
chalicemedia

I'll admit that sometimes online I'll REDACTED about REDACTED. Whether I prefer REDACTED over REDACTED or if I think that REDACTED is REDACTED or REDACTED about the REDACTED in REDACTED. Best regards, B^)

craig.s.frazier
craig.s.frazier

If I have all my information set to private, and you can only see my name, then the divulging of my personal information without my consent is illegal. Unless stated in the process that a background SOCIAL check will be conducted, it is not illegal. Or before applying to jobs now, it is best for the employer to state it in their details. Basically these social networks are just like human trafficking. Its basically virtual human trafficking, your information is being sold to Russia, Japan, Europe and the rest of the world for statistics, methods to cause harm, and analyze your personal life. Yes employers can use that but hey my social life is my own, wouldn't that be discrimination and victimization WHICH is illegal? I think so. Now you wonder why all of these websites that purposely try to get your information get hacked so much. It ticks others off. Yeah for all of the other readers, you better watch the pages you like. Your boss might be Democratic, Repuplican, or simply Non-Political. Ha It may cost you.

jana.squires
jana.squires

I wonder if individuals can do the same background check on these employers as well. A prospective employee may also want to scrutinize who they are going to be potentially working for. What a tit for tat interview that would be. Seems a bit juvenile doesn't it?

amendez52
amendez52

Personally, that is one of the reasons I choose not to participate in most social networking sites. You know like, too risky to expose that way......

John_LI_IT_Guy
John_LI_IT_Guy

Not that I've seen it on an application, but I've heard some places ask. I would leave the Facebook info blank, if asked, "Don't Participate". They can go pay someone to do a background check. I don't do bowling with puppies or other similar hobbies so I'm not worried. It's just the point, it's none of their business.

zloeber
zloeber

The background check goes both ways as far as I'm concerned. If I'm going to go through all the hassles of starting a new job it better be worth it. Before a possible interview I try to find out more about the employers by looking up hiring managers or other people I may be working with in www.123people.com. I also verify the general internal state of affairs on www.glassdoor.com. As I'm in infrastructure I'll also do a quick scan of their domains to get a feel for the size of their environment and some of the technologies they may have in place at the edge. A great resource for this is a little known online dns tool at http://www.robtex.com/dns (and of course nmap). I don't look into facebook/twitter/linkedin much. Company presences on those sites are carefully crafted to leave an impression that may not be accurate. I feel bad for the most recent generation of job seekers. We didn't have digital outlets like facebook to where we could post possible life mistake content in my youth (just try to find my posts on text based BBS's!). Now anything I put out there is purposeful and meaningful so I actually want employers and other professionals to find it. I don't know that I would have been that wise in my younger years though.

joanne.e.m
joanne.e.m

...none of my users ever sees this article. I can't imagine how useful it would be for anyone other than my immediate friends or family to know I like gorey horror movies or spent my weekend at the cinema. Unless you pre-suppose an enjoyment of gorey horror as being a latent tendency towards potentially losing the plot and doing away with a few co-workers. At the end of the day, my enjoyments outside of work tend not to come up at work; after all, I'm a well rounded professional who knows the difference between my personal life and working life. I suppose, however, it's useful for companies to pin-point people with extreme political opinions. Or people who are simply taking the mickey. Certainly know a few companies who like to send new employees for interviews at competing companies...just to see how they perform and to mess them (the competition) about a bit. At the end of the day, the privacy may not be great on FB, but it's there, and if you believe that security is being circumvented you will still be in your rights to challenge the source of any data anyone holds on you. ...or you can just change your online name to "Maevis" ;)

stupid user name
stupid user name

As someone with a Security Clearance, I've avoided most of the social media sites since their inception. Wonder what the SIC hoes (Social Intelligence Corporation folks) will do when they can't find anything. Oh wait, I just gave them this nugget. Wonder if they'll find it.

Bipbop84
Bipbop84

I'd like to first recognize the misguided Ishanahan. Obviously, you are someone with little to do with the social network. I say this because myself and others who feel this is a bit much and an invasion of privacy go to great lengths to filter and control who can access our information. My privacy settings don't even allow FAMILY to view everything I post. I do my best not to say outrageous things for fear that some mindless exec may perceive my words out of context. But to have to censor/filter myself with the people I regularly communicate with (maintining the same digital relationship as we have in person) is ridiculous. OF COURSE, I wouldn't pop off at the mouth using profanity on a public forum, knowing someone could see it.... but within my own space (hence the term Myspace --which I don't use) or on my own wall on Facebook, which is my personal digital space, I should be able to say what I please without worrying what invasive company will log it for reference later. I take responsibility for my actions, how about companies and employers quit taking the easy way out....do some actual legwork in the hiring process and try it the old fashioned way. I can always get a better idea of someone in person than based on something I've read.

Dknopp
Dknopp

They better make damn sure I am not that satan worshipper that I found using my name in Florida

daniel-jomara
daniel-jomara

Good Morning, Ms. Bowers, Yes, let's make "background" a verb. We are both old enough to restrain ourselves but these younger kids have put so much of themselves out there that, when they are backgrounded, their information may hurt them. It will only be taken as black-and-white, no in-between. In-between requires thought, time and consideration. Most people are now unencumbered by the thought processes. Too expensive! Thanks for your vigilance. Our privacy has disappeared and it is important to know what "they" are "legally" doing to us now! Hope you had a good July 4th, D. J-O

bill.andersen
bill.andersen

You can take most of what you read on the Internet with a pinch of salt, most of it is a load of old Bull! Its great for information and fun and personal contact with distant friends but this tendency to take it so seriously is whats wrong today and these nut jobs who think they can decide how a person thinks by a few comments on here really need to get out more. Get a life!! Disinformation is the answer, now we see you now we don't, I'm in this country today, in another tomorrow, get the picture?

janet.mobley
janet.mobley

I try to be real careful about what I say and NEVER discuss politics online, but how can all these companies track everything you say if you do not "friend" them? Do they hack your account, does FB let them in, how do they do it? I have been curious about this for some time. My co-worker thinks maybe when you're in an interview they ask you to pull up your FB account and if you don't agree, then they just won't hire you. I think they must have some other way.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I work in the auto industry, and I know most of the data sources. So when I go shopping for a used car, I do use those services which provide histories. But you should never trust that a clean history means you have a good car. People can and do have accidents and not report them. You have to learn how to spot when a body panel is a slightly different age than the rest of the car. Same thing with background checks. Some people have simply never been caught.

Non-techie Talk
Non-techie Talk

I got an email with my correct name, derived from the source I expected, one of the few places online where a number of my various online identities are tied directly to my name.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I just sent you a message. I'm not malicious, but daring people may bring out the malicious in some people. It took me less time to find your name than to send you the email.

Shadeburst
Shadeburst

Uhuh tarose.trevor, the kind of recruitment exec who will use this service is a CYA person scared to make mistakes. Instead of looking for reasons to hire you they concentrate on reasons not to hire you. It's safest.

DRMartin789
DRMartin789

2uWrangler: "So one literally has to sift thru a ton of lies to glean an once of truth" So is your statement the truth or a lie or hyperbole? The fact is, 97.4% of statistics are fabricated on the spot. But seriously, I agree. :) Although I think it partially depends on the subject you're investigating.

father.nature
father.nature

I have better things to do online than fool with Facebook or twitter with twits. Any employer who wants to dig out my online presence and judge me by my posts is welcome to it. It won't tell them much because there's deliberately little there. Suggestion: if you know a prospective employer will scrutinize your personal social data, refuse to work for the bozo. Go elsewhere. Personally tell HR to go to hell on your way out, and send a signed letter to the CEO telling him or her the same thing. If that scares you, maybe you're in the wrong industry. Why be a "good German?"

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

The article doesn't say background investigators are cracking accounts, only that they're looking at the unsecured public information.

JamesRL
JamesRL

If your name here is Craig S Frasier, by using it as your Tech Republic ID, you've already given us too much information. If I was an HR rep, I could go check out your facebook page, what you have posted on TR and elsewhere and so on. None of that is illegal.

JamesRL
JamesRL

If you have enough information, you can sift through the entries, and eliminate the people with the same name as you. I'm sure you can google anyone, why not.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Mine expired almost a decade ago, and it was years before when I was investigated for it. At that time social networking didn't exist. I assume DIS / DSS now includes social networking as part of it's peeking and poking, but does the form to apply for a clearance now ask about e-networking activity?

m.king
m.king

If you wanted, you could create a whole lot of interesting information about yourself for the nosy ones to find. Instead of finding stuff to be used against you, they would find all the really good stuff. The reality is that if you cull potential employees based on what you find on social networks your not going to succeed. You would be better off to pin all the potentials on the wall and throw darts.

Bipbop84
Bipbop84

You realize that if you don't restrict your FB, I can google your name, and photos of you pop up, along with comments? Yeah, take the extra time to block it all before ever posting, and you can limit what reaches the claws of these IT SPIES.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Your example was too easy. The perils of building an internet presence are that someone can link from one to another to another, and eventaully find some clue. I mentioned in another thread a few weeks back that someone tracked me down 6 months ago, about a posting on an urbanlegends site, from the mid 90s. I've gone through 5 email addresses since. But one source with my somewhat rare last name, a city, and LinkedIn, and he left me a voicemail at my employer..... I did do some web checks on a potential employee once. Verified what I suspected from the interview. I don't do it all the time though, nor would I pay a third party to do it for me.

janet.mobley
janet.mobley

Thanks! I definitely restrict, so hopefully my stuff is not open to non-friends. Not until FB changes the privacy settings anyway ;) And like some have said - if they misconstrue things said that much, who wants to work there anyway!

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