A New Approach to Internet and Social Media Searches

August 12, 2011, 8:59 AM

A recent article in the New York Times examined a start-up company's plan to help employers use internet searches to uncover information about applicants, ostensibly avoiding the legal risk associated with such activities.

Social Intelligence is a California company that scours the internet for its employer clients, digging up information on its clients' job applicants, then scrubs the data and completes a background report on the applicant that does not include any protected class information. According to the article, the Federal Trade Commission has determined that Social Intelligence complies with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Most importantly, Social Intelligence claims to insulate employers from discrimination claims by removing any references to a person's religion, race, marital status, disability, and other information protected under federal employment laws.

While not every employer will retain the services of a third party to perform internet searches, it is important to be aware of the risks of conducting such searches. It is also important to weigh the risks against the potential rewards, as much of the information found on the internet may not be job related at all. For these reasons, employers should evaluate their options and implement a company policy that avoids unnecessary risks. --David J. Sullivan