We have all been warned that potential employers will Google our names when making hiring decisions.  However, most of us probably have failed to realize that employers receive help with this type of researching.  Fortunately, the help must abide by certain laws when providing such services.

This month, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a complaint against Spokeo, a data collector that allegedly violated federal law by compiling and selling people’s personal information for use by potential employers in screening job applicants.  Spokeo agreed to settle the charges for $800,000 without admitting that they were true.  Apparently, Spokeo violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by marketing consumer profiles without ensuring that these profiles would be used for legal purposes.

The case started two years ago when the Center for Democracy & Technology filed a complaint to the FTC alleging that Spokeo was engaging in unfair and deceptive business practices.  Spokeo responded by claiming that it is only a technology company that organizes people-related data in innovative ways.

According to the FTC, Spokeo sold people profiles that included addresses, phone numbers, marital statuses, approximate ages, email addresses, hobbies, ethnicities, etc.  Spokeo collected this data from online and offline data sources, including social networks, and merged the data to create detailed personal profiles of the consumers.  Spokeo promoted these servies to human resource departments, background screening companies, and employment recruiters as tools to help users decide whether to interview or hire job candidates.  For example, if you applied for a job at a company, its human resources department could research your background by using Spokeo’s services.

Spokeo is now also banned from violating the FCRA in addition to the $800,000 fine.  Since the allegations, Spokeo changed its website and internal business practices to conform with the FCRA consumer protections and claims to now ensure an honest and transparent service.

– Marina Visan


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