Senators Worry Start-Up Site May Harm Job Seekers
Two lawmakers are questioning whether the company Social Intelligence, a start-up that scours social media sites for information about job candidates, violates Web users' privacy.
"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," Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) say in a letter to Social Intelligence CEO Max Drucker.
The lawmakers ask a host of questions, including several aimed at discovering whether Social Intelligence is able to access information that users did not intend to broadcast to the public at large. For instance, the senators ask whether Social Intelligence has ever tried to create a profile with the same alma mater as an applicant in order to see information limited to people within the same university network.
Franken and Blumenthal also want to know whether Social Intelligence draws on information that is initially restricted to a limited audience, but later becomes public as a result of a site's change in terms. The lawmakers note that Google and Facebook have been accused of changing their privacy policies in ways that blindsided users.
For instance, when Google rolled out Buzz, the service made some information about people's email contacts public if users activated the service without changing the default settings. "Does your company include such information in its reports?" the lawmakers ask Social Intelligence.
In addition, the senators are questioning whether Social Intelligence violates users' copyrights by including photos from Flickr and Picasa in background reports sent to employers. "Does your company obtain permission from the owners of these pictures to use, sell, or modify them?" the lawmakers ask.
Both Franken and Blumenthal have taken a strong interest in privacy. Last year, when Blumenthal served as Connecticut Attorney General, he led a mult-state investigation into whether Google broke any laws by collecting users' WiFi transmissions.
In February, Sen. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) tapped Franken to lead a new Senate subcommittee dealing with privacy and technology.
The Federal Trade Commission recently closed its investigation into Social Intelligence without taking action. At the time, Maneesha Mithal, associate director of the FTC's Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, said the commission considered that Social Intelligence had procedures to ensure it complied with the Federal Credit Reporting Act.
That law says reporting agencies can't investigate job applicants without their permission; it also requires reporting agencies to allow job seekers to dispute factual inaccuracies.