Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Say it ain't so, Spokeo!

This topic is poignant because of a paper I'm writing in regards to technology and recruiting.

Today I overheard two fellow employees discussing personal information with comments such as "how can they do that" and "that isn't true." I decided to prairie-dog up and see what they were talking about. The answer was Spokeo.com. I said spell it. S-P-O-K-E-O.

I dropped down in my chair and went straight to the site. Spokeo.com is a website that appears to be a data aggregator that scours 40+ social networking sites in search of personal information based on a name, phone, email, and even friends.

I'm not surprised this technology is there; I've been in web development for about 10 years now and have used my share of site-scraping programs to obtain data. The idea is simple; the application is something different. I'm not going to talk about how this can be used to stalk enemies or former flames; this blog is about HR-related issues, and Spokeo is perfect to look at through the eyes of a recruiter.

Social recruiting is HOT, mainly because of its ability to find information and post jobs quickly. Twitter is a-buzz with job postings that reach job seekers in a matter of seconds (and sometimes those positions get filled as fast!). Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace all have data available, depending on user restrictions, to the general public. Spokeo is just like them, except it exists to pull all that information together into one nice little bundle. Hey recruiters! No longer do you need to run to numerous sites searching for your candidate. Find him or her at Spokeo!

Here's what's wrong with that last statement, in regards to recruiting. Most of that information isn't job related. The fact that it shows my credit level (hello, Fair Credit Reporting Act), my marital status, my age, my gender, and my ethnicity ( Title VII, need I say more) might leave companies in a bit of a legal bind if the decision to recruit certain individuals is based upon information gleamed from this site. Additionally, not all this information is true; I am not in my late 30s, although I do feel like it sometimes. While Spokeo states "the data is not verified and might not be accurate" because humans are not involved in the collection of data, it doesn't relieve employers of their responsibility when making judgements based on the gathered information.

Here's what I say. Stay away from this. It may not be the reason you choose to skip past an applicant, but it also shouldn't be the smoking gun that gets you and your organization in trouble with an accusation of discrimination in recruiting. While you may be able to hide that you search with it, remember that:
1. You could be in violation of your company's recruiting policy and/or Internet usage policy.
2. You have ethical co-workers (I am in no way implying you are unethical) who may not approve and are willing to let others know.
3. You should be basing your decision on KSAOs in the initial screening, not a picture of someone you found, especially when you aren't certain that picture is of who you think it is.


  1. Hey Mike, it's Derek I agree with you. My information was wrong and in the fine print at the bottom:

    '...The data provided to you by Spokeo may not be used as a factor in establishing a consumer's eligibility for credit, insurance, employment purposes or for any other purpose authorized under the FCRA.'

    Scrapping data from any source that isn’t given to a company by an applicant is dangerous ground. If someone offers their Twitter handle or FB page on a resume that would give the employer at least the consent of the applicant, however this may not be worth a look at all due to retrieving information that shouldn’t influence whether or not someone is hired. Once the cat is out the bag you can't put it back in.

    That said watch what’s out there because someone’s Big Brother is watching.

  2. Derek, thanks for your input. I skimmed the terms too quickly so I missed the part about it not being listed as a credit agency under the FCRA, but I went back in and saw it. The most important point is to stay away from this so one doesn't become influenced by its info. I'm happy we are on the same page.

    One more thing. You mentioned that your info was wrong. Did I miss something somewhere? Did you post something else?

    I hope to hear your insight on other topics on which I choose to blog.


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