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June 27, 2011

Social Intelligence - a new social network credit bureau?

According to a recent article on, the Federal Trade Commission has authorized a new company called "Social Intelligence" to conduct background checks of consumers based not on their credit or criminal histories, but instead using the online social network activity.  This means there is yet another way that your online activity (or posts online regarding your less than stellar offline activity) can affect consumers' ability to land a job.

It was a big deal when companies started running a credit report on job applicants during the vetting process.  But this made sense.  Sometimes its because the job applicant would be handling large sums of money and, if they are in deep debt, they may be more likely to embezzle from the company.

This is even bigger.  Now, a potential employer doesn't have to expend its own resources to check your online identity, it can hire Social Intelligence to do it for you.  According to the PC World article, the potential employer would indicate what type of activity its worried about (i.e. illegal drug use, racism, or other illegal activity) and then Social Intelligence would allegedly only report back to the potential employer about anything it found related to those areas of concern.

But, in reality, Social Intelligence would be a consumer reporting agency (as defined by the Fair Credit Reporting Act) and thus would have to comply with the requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, including maintaining its database of information in such a way that the reports it generates are done so utilizing "reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy" and that it would have to perform reasonable investigations of any disputes made by the consumer of items reported to the potential employer.

How, pray tell, is Social Intelligence going to perform a "reasonable investigation" of the online content?  That's got potential for some interesting case law.

The moral of the story, though, is to quit posting your business on Facebook and quit tweeting from the bar, etc.  Limit your Facebook posts to the kind of things an employer wants to see - i.e. things that demonstrate stability and maturity, not childish or inappropriate behavior.  This isn't new advice.  I've been telling clients for a while to watch what they post (and to make their profiles "private" to limit access to what they do post), because defense lawyers have started trolling plaintiff's facebook and other online profiles for juicy information to use against them later.

So, listen up folks, watch what you post 'cause it could come back to haunt you.

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