Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Social Intelligence" start-up offers employers a way to do "safe" social media "background investigations"

The Business Day Section of the July 21 New York Times centers with a disturbing story by Jennifer Preston, “Social Media History Becomes a New Job Hurdle”, link here

There is a start-up called “Social Intelligence” (with a service mark) whose website says to employers “Are you putting yourself and job candidates at risk by using Google as a job screening tool?”  It also rotates among a number of other questions about managing online reputation issues for candidates, employees, and the employing companies themselves.  The link is here

The company apparently offers a service to address questions of unfair employment practices in doing haphazard “Internet background investigations” which run the considerable risk of finding wrong people or of judging people on the basis of categories not allowed to be considered under federal and state laws (including race, religion, and often sexual orientation).

The company would look at the candidate’s media activity in public places (it’s a little unclear what happens with Facebook profiles where privacy settings are high). It can also look into message boards and into the deeper Internet and is supposed to be able to determine if a candidate’s photos were unfairly tagged by others.

One can draw interesting and unclear parallels between using credit reporting histories of applicants and social media histories.  So far, the FTC regards some of this BI investigation as "legal" if it is based on information the applicant made public; it's less clear when it invokes material or photos made by others.

The service does seem to locate unusual connection to drugs or weapons activity, or extremism (which could be a subjective concept -- remember Barry Goldwater). For example, electric utilities have been warned by Homeland Security to be very careful about whom they hire because of the possibility of sabotage from home-grown terror groups. 

If I were subjected to such an “investigation”, I think SI would not turn up anything negative in the usual sense; the main question would be the motive behind the enormous volume of postings accumulating for the past fourteen years.  That is a topic for a chapter of a book (or maybe a movie)!  But I do have a "sharp edge" (like Mt. Katadhin's Knife Edge, maybe).

Social Intelligence is headed by Max Drucker, who may become a player in the "online reputation monitoring" business similar to that established by Michael Fertik (below). 

There is another story (already) about Preston's NYT article on "Reputation Communications" here

(My "BillBoushka" blog has a coordinated post about Michael Fertik's "" July 20.)

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