Amanda Carpenter is a JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has pointed to US polling showing that as much as 45 percent of employers use social networking sites when scrutinizing job candidates. This didn’t surprise me, as I happen to know someone whose full-time job was to conduct online background checks on potential employees.
Indeed, the cited poll found that over one-third of employers have passed over candidates based on what they found online. Reasons may include inappropriate photos, references to alcohol consumption and drug use, and negative comments about former employers. Discrimination, of course, may be less wholesome, as some employers have been known to judge candidates based on the attractiveness of their profile pictures, and—where privacy settings inhibit such snooping—even pose as others in order to be “friended.”
Germany has decided to take related privacy concerns head on, as a bill has been proposed that would prohibit employers from investigating potential employees through social networking sites. Employers would still be allowed to conduct background checks through job networking sites such as LinkedIn, but not through friend sites like Facebook. Similarly, Germans reacted so forcefully to privacy concerns related to Google Street View, that Google was forced to provide them with extra options to remove photos of homes taken by its camera cars.
There has been no comparable Canadian outrage, and a recent case study found that most Ontario employers would likely encounter no legislative impediment (under, eg, PIPEDA, FIPPA or MFIPPA) to collecting personal information from social networking profiles. The study determined that this would be the case regardless of whether the “information is publicly posted or placed behind a security screen by the user”. In Canada, then, the smart money is on being prudent with one’s privacy settings and friend-acceptance mentality—better safe than sorry.