Here's another reason not to be too quick to hit that "like" button: The Federal Trade Commission has decided that companies that research your online activity and sell it to potential employers do not violate your privacy.
The federal agency was investigating a company called Social Intelligence, which scours sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and other accounts and blogs to uncover more about you. It has determined that the service complies with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. So if you put it out there on the Web, it's fair game, according to The Wall Street Journal. That includes all that stuff you do in your free time away from work.
The article quotes Social Intelligence CEO Max Drucker, saying:
Almost all employers do some form of background screening because they have to avoid negligent hiring. An employer has an obligation to make the best effort to protect their employees and customers when they hire.
But it's not so much those drunken party pics that will get you, but comments you've left and that "like" button. According to The New York Times:
... background reports have turned up examples of people making anti-Semitic comments and racist remarks, [Drucker] said. Then there was the job applicant who belonged to a Facebook group, "This Is America. I Shouldn't Have to Press 1 for English."
Anyway, according to ITP.net, the employer can define the information it wants to see from the service, though any information that by law cannot be used in hiring will be screened out. The Journal article notes that it's illegal for employers to make hiring decisions based on race, religion, marital status or disability. But they can make decisions based on whether they like your attitude or your ethics. It would seem, though, that the service opens up all sorts of hiring discrimination issues when a hiring manager can see you have opinions he or she might not like.
At ZDNet, writer Zach Whittaker sees much of this as a generational difference, suggesting that employers need to loosen up:
The Generation Y are so open and frank about so many aspects of their lives, and worst still in the public domain more often than not, it can lead to compromising positions which reflect badly upon employers. ...
Recruiters need to take a more open and liberal attitude to Generation Y misgivings. Sure, privacy nowadays is a fluid and flexible notion, but one has to be aware of their online presence and the image they are portraying of themselves to not only the world, but also prospective employers.
While we are an open generation', the other side to this - the employment side - needs to adjust accordingly to accommodate this cultural shift.
Do you agree? Is this just another example of generational differences?
The Journal article provides some tips on cleaning up your online trail, if you think it's inaccurate or that another person with the same name could be creating a blot on your record. In the worst-case scenario, you could employ any of the companies that do online reputation "makeovers."