Senators have privacy issues with background screening firm
Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) voiced concern over the practices of an employment screening firm that culls data about job applicants from social media and the Web on Monday, arguing the practice could invade consumers' privacy and violate the law.
“According to sample background reports published in the media, information is collected from applicants’ profiles on social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, personal websites, and other online information sources that Social Intelligence Corporation matches to applicants," the Senators wrote.
"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.”
Social Intelligence Corp. is a background screening service that stores data on consumers' Web and social media footprints for up to seven years to give employers information about potential hires.
The firm says it looks for publicly posted content that is racially insensitive, sexually explicit, or demonstrates clearly illegal activity. Flagrant displays of weaponry are also flagged. Content limited only to users' friends is not included in the searches.
The Senators request answers to a list of questions such as whether applicants have the right to correct mistakes on their record or how the firm differentiates between individuals with common names.
They question whether the firm attempts to access restricted data on Facebook by friending them or joining a network. The letter also suggests that Social Intelligence's practice of taking screenshots of social media profiles and pictures may violate the sites' terms of service.
"More troubling than the apparent disregard of these websites’ terms of service are what appear to be significant violations of users’ intellectual property rights to control the use of the content that your company collects and sells," the letter states, noting that pictures taken from sites like Flickr and Picasa are often licensed by the owner for a narrow set of uses.
Update: "We welcome the opportunity to clear-up any concerns Senators Blumenthal and Franken may have about our business," said a Social Intelligence spokesman via email.
This post was updated at 4:34 p.m.