FTC says "yes" to Facebook activity inclusion in background checks

FTC says "yes" to Facebook activity inclusion in background checks

Summary: The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has just given Social Intelligence Corp the go ahead to include Facebook profile activity in its background checks when screening employees.


You now have another reason to check your privacy settings. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, Social Intelligence Corp, has been given the legal thumbs up to archive seven years worth of your Facebook posts. These archives will be used by SIC (oh the applicability of the acronym) as part of their background checking service for job applicants.

There are a couple sides to this argument that have been hashed out many times over. A hiring manager could say that they were glad they discovered that Johnny the master of the great resume also drank heavily every night and posted all his parties on Facebook - so they could avoid hiring him. The other side of the  argument has been that if someone is functional, professional and sober at work, then why is it fair to factor in what they do outside of work when deciding if you should schedule an interview? As long as they are not a violent criminal or addicted to hard drugs, who cares?

The biggest issue I have with this is that my Facebook activity (i.e. the pieces of my personal life that I chose to post) might not jive with the individual hiring manager, regardless if I'm amazing at my job, it's a good fit, and everything else matches up. But what if said hiring manager, who maybe didn't drink alcohol, had a bad experience with some jerk in Cabo who drank too much tequila at a club and picked a fight with him unprovoked while he was on his honeymoon? All of a sudden that photo of me sharing a pitcher of margaritas on Cinco de Mayo with my buddies bounces me off his short list of contenders.

The problem with allowing personal life activities to play a factor in background checks and hiring decisions is that there are many in life that work hard and play hard. There are many things that people do for fun that offend others or make them uncomfortable, regardless of how harmless it actually is. Will companies now spend more time looking for the ultimate employee who has not only the required skills and education, but also has a specific name, favorite food genre, never attended Burning Man, likes to wear t-shirts on the weekend, loves gardening, and hangs with a certain circle of friends that are "comfortable" enough for that manager to emotionally accept? That is a slippery slope.....like the U.S. workforce doesn't have enough subtle instances of discrimination that slip by in several top companies. But that's another post for another blog.

Here's to hoping that those hiring managers that check the Facebook profiles of potential candidates are level-headed enough to realize that everyday life happens and that while someone may do something different than they do in their spare time, they may also be good employees and high-quality people to boot.

Here are some other articles on Facebook privacy settings

Facebook just made you invisible to most of your followers. Here's how to fix it:

Facebook's photo facial recognition enabled: Time to check your settings

10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know

Topics: Social Enterprise, CXO, Legal, Security, IT Employment

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  • high time that facebook be private by default

    The default mode of facebook should be that everything is private until you say otherwise. Opt out is a bad policy that should be outlawed in favour of opt in
    • RE: FTC says

      @cymru999 - Agreed.
      Rich Harris
      • Closing my account.

        Even though all my actions are set to private.

        Nothing to hide. This is just wrong. Your personal life should remain personal. This is an invasion of privacy.
      • RE: FTC says

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      • RE: FTC says

        I like it and do continue up the good work.
        <a href="http://www.papermoz.com/research-papers/">Research Paper</a>
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      • RE: FTC says

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      • RE: FTC says

        The problem with allowing personal life activities to play a factor in background checks and hiring decisions is that there are many in life that work hard and play hard. <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/pub/renee-zariah/36/321/b15">Renee Zariah </a> - <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/pub/de-lung/41/265/696">De Lung</a>
    • How to ruin somebody's life - 101

      Create a fake Facebook profile (easy enough to do). Fill it with fake compromising photos and posts. Retroactively link it to your victim's name.
      All this with no real defense!
      Lawyers: Are you drooling yet?
    • RE: FTC says


      Employers have no right to judge or act on what a person does outside of work. This is the beginning of the end to our freedom if we allow government and corporations to infiltrate our private lives. Screw facebook and screw the US government for acting on this!
      • RE: FTC says

        @rob.sharp@... worlds smallest violin :( OMG they infiltrated my life by visiting a website where I put all the details of my life on blast for the world to see. How could they invade and violate my privacy so ruthlessly!?!
      • RE: FTC says

        Sir you are an egregious imbecile. My guess is that you haven't even used Facebook for anything or you would not be posting what you did. If you do have a Facebook account you are even more of a desperate case since you demonstrate to entirely miss the point of what people are complaining about here... hence I would not expect you to understand what anyone has written here. You sould do better use of your time and take a hike which will be good to keep you in shape and at the same time will avoid yo make a fool out of yourself by talking nonsense.

        Many do not "blast" anything and only have an account with Facebook to keep in touch with family and friend who live in other cities or even continents. The offering of the service for free made Facebook very powerful in terms of reach so that now Facebook can be used for marketing purposes and that's all fine as long as the basic personal freedoms will not be violated. Storing activity for 7 years and therefore allowing access to 3rd parties is completely unacceptable.
      • Message has been deleted.

      • RE: FTC says


        lol message deleted... I forgot people get sensitive on these sites..

        I'll just repeat the main point here... Unfortunately it's you that needs to get some "understanding" before making a post. I do actually use facebook all the time, and I understand how privacy settings work. I also know that even the best security measures on the internet have been brought down over and over again by smart kids with time to kill. Sites with much better security than facebook, haha. When I put things out there, I make sure they are things I'm ok with BEING out there and I'm willing to take responsibility for them.
        Even forgetting that though, if you actually READ the article, this isn't facebook archiving all your private/public posts and offering them up to a 3rd party. This is a 3rd party company doing the same search anybody and their mom can do, and getting back the same information the rest of us who aren't your friends can get. So unless you are using facebook without understanding privacy settings, or you...make that security company your friend on facebook, they ARE only getting information you put "on blast" to the world.

      • RE: FTC says

        @rob.sharp@... No, the beginning of the end began way back when they began to allow employers to run credit checks as a means of determining if a guy would be a good candidate for that fork lift driver position in the warehouse. As of now we are about 70% to the end. If you get a job, you better hold on to that thing unless you spent the past 25 years as a monk.
      • RE: FTC says

        @rob.sharp Wake up! The government has no right to say yes as much as they have no right to say no! This is an employers right. They can investigate you as much as they want. they can make you piss in a cup, give up hair for testing, and, oh, LIVE RESPONSIBLY! It's their liability. You don't want people to know about it, NOT don't put it online, but DON'T DO IT!
    • RE: FTC says

      @cymru999 outlawed? LOL I love how so many people want laws to alleviate having to take personal responsibility these days.

      If you are posting stuff on facebook, then you better be OK with the whole world seeing it, whether they do it via the 'rules' of facebook or not. If you don't want it out there in the world, don't put it out there...and FFS at LEAST take the time to gain the minuscule amount of knowledge it takes to see if what you posted is 'public' or 'private'...

      People saying "your personal life should remain personal"... Um... So why are you posting it on facebook then! This is no different than if the recruiter were to show up at the same bar as you, and you're getting drunk and acting like an ass. What, he's not allowed to take that into account because it's your 'personal' life?? most of the other stuff in a background check is part of your personal life too...they do those checks for a reason, so they know what kind of PERSON you are.
      • I agree. People don't walk into intervews with the idea

        That if asked they'll offer up "Well, I get drunk off my butt every night". Why? because they don't want that to effect their chance of being hired.

        So why offer that up on Facebook? We do background checks of our employees because of the requirements of the businesses we serve, but background checks are but one tool we use, it's helpful, but not the end all of it all.

        We have learned with a few employees over the years that just because a person has a clean record doesn't mean they've never done anything illegal, it just means they were never caught doing anything ilegal, or turned in when caught stealing from other jobs.

        Employers do have the right to judge or act on what a person does outside of work if they feel it may adversly effect their image or profitability.

        How many sales could be lost if your head salesperson is also leader of the regional Aryan Nation chapter?

        How many people here would hire that guy to run their business if they knew?

        Being a member of that group doesn't show up on a background check.
        Will Pharaoh
      • RE: FTC says


        Go use Facebook at least before talking are of your rear end. If you want to comment on something at least know what you are talking about.

        Posting something on FB does not automatically make it public if the user wants to keep it private. I agree that if someone does not want to have their private life become of public domain they should take steps to do so and set the proper privacy rules that Facebook does allow. But allowing a 3rd party to dig on records that have been saved and that ignore any privacy and access limitation that the person who posted them set is a blatant violation of your privacy therefore your point is absolutely moot.

        Allowing access to records that users have set to be private and that Facebook has guaranteed to remain as such is in violation of anyone's privacy. It's like getting safety deposit boxes at a bank that guarantees only you will have access to it and will know what's in it... and then one day the bank provides access to a 3rd party to look inside and itemize all you have in the box. If by now you have not gotten the point you should be concerning yourself with other things and stop posting idiotic statements attacking those who have all the reasons to express their concern.

        You have no point sir no matter how hard you'll try.
      • RE: FTC says


        lol, I do have a point, you just completely missed it, that's all :)

        I do use facebook, and I do know how privacy settings work. My point is that, only an idiot would post something there with any expectation of "privacy". Sorry if you're one of those :( When I post something on facebook, I do so knowing full well that the only people who "should" see it are those who I've allowed through privacy settings, but through a multitude of reasons, it's possible that ANYONE will see them. It's on the fucking internet on a public site. The safe deposit box argument is retarded... when you sign up with facebook, there is nothing there that guarantees you safety of the information you post... all you're doing is using some functionality that is EXPECTED to work a certain way, but may or may not, and is quite likely vulnerable. There are also a number of actions you take (including signing up) that give facebook rights to content you post, to provide that content to 3rd parties etc already...if you're so against that then you have a lot of other battles ahead of you before this one...and probably shouldn't even be using facebook, haha. You can bet everything they are doing is 100% legal with respect to the agreement entered into from the beginning, so from that side there's not even a point in arguing.

        All that's left is this stupid expectation of privacy on the internet thing. Hey, you want to go ahead and give information you aren't comfortable with anyone seeing to a public website, go ahead and do it, no skin off my nose. I'm comfortable with what I put out there though, and I fully support any company's right to make sure they know what kind of person they're hiring. If they don't like who I am, then I probably wouldn't be happy there anyway.
      • RE: FTC says

        @thisnameisok Well, here's how I see it. I see an interesting question posted on Facebook. I decide I'm going to respond. I respond with an intelligent answer, and I get several likes and several responses agreeing with me.

        About six months down the road, I'm applying for a job. They run a background check on me. I come up clean on criminal and my credit is good (that's another rant for another day). Hiring manager looks over my Facebook and see's the question I answered six months ago. That person doesn't like my answer for personal reasons (not company reasons...from background checks, employer checks and references, I'm a model person that would fit with the corporate culture). Since the hiring manager has a problem with the way I answered the question, I don't get hired.

        The problem here is, when you write something down...whether it is on a piece of paper, a text message or on Facebook, the interpretation of such words are at the discretion of the person reading it. A person can take words out of context, and therefore you have been penalized for what you wrote down.

        Also, it has dawned on me that this opens the door to discrimination. Give you an example: I worked for an employer once that had a hiring manager who didn't like pregnant women. After an interview, I walked into his office to ask him something, when he said that he was tired of all these pregnant women getting hired. He stated he would, from that point forward, ask the woman if she was pregnant and, if she was, he wouldn't hire her. I told him he couldn't legally do that because that's discrimination. Now, that person can simply look at someone's Facebook and, if they happen to mention they are pregnant, he can now reject her application on the grounds that it didn't pass a background check, even if she passes all other levels of the background check. Now that hiring manager can work around laws preventing this type of discrimination by hiding behind the background check.