The NY Times features a startup called Social Intelligence, and their business is to create profiles of you and me from publicly available information online. They sell these profiles to employers who want to screen job candidates.
Here are a few questions worth pondering:
- What does "public" information mean? Say, you have a Facebook account in which your "wall" is only readable by friends. Is that information public or private?
- What does the CEO mean when he says "[the current practice of] Googling someone is ridiculously unfair"? What is Social Intelligence if it isn't some form of Google?
- Should there be a reciprocal business, that is, that job candidates can gain access to profiles of their prospective co-workers and bosses? Would employers be as eager to use such a service knowing that their own profiles are also accessible?
- Will people be allowed to "buy silence"? If so, would the law consider this a form of discrimination?
- How can Social Intelligence (or anyone else or a computer for that matter) know whether the information gathered online is true or false? How can the startup prevent enemies from defaming people? How can the startup prevent job candidates from seeding the Web with positive spam about themselves?
- How does Social Intelligence build profiles on people with common names like John Smith, Peter Chan, etc.? How accurate is the matching to individuals? And how is such matching accomplished?
- How does Social Intelligence read sarcasm, irony, jokes, etc.? With online writing, even humans sometimes have trouble understanding each other. The types of things employers are looking out for are precisely those that could most easily be misconstrued. The article contains an example: “This Is America. I Shouldn’t Have to Press 1 for English.” That is interpreted as a negative indication of character. What if this person is citing a line from a famous standup comedian?
The most annoying sentence of the whole article is the one that tells people to stop worrying because "job candidates must first consent to the background check." They forgot to add that "this is a free country, and you can choose to not apply for our job." Because that is precisely what they are talking about. It's the same annoying attitude when Apple says you can use iPhone only if you consent to 100 pages of terms and conditions.
With just about everything, lawyers are the true winners.