LinkedIn may have violated consumer protection laws by selling users’ work history to potential employers without consent, according to a class-action lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed last week in a California federal court, and asserts that LinkedIn’s job reference tool allowed employers to make hiring and firing decisions without regard to or knowledge of LinkedIn users.
The tool let employers with paid premium accounts anonymously mine potential applicants’ employment history that would yield a report with current job titles for potential references, common employers and duration of employment. But the employers running these searches without users’ knowledge were making vital decisions based on potentially inaccurate information, the complaint states.
“Any potential employer can anonymously dig into the employment history of any LinkedIn member, and make hiring and firing decisions based upon the information they gather, without the knowledge of the member, and without any safeguards in place as to the accuracy of the information that the potential employer has obtained,” the lawsuit states.
VIOLATION OF FEDERAL STATUTE?
LinkedIn’s tool could violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which protects job applicants by requiring employers to notify them if a consumer report is used to deny employment. If found liable, LinkedIn could have to get users’ consent before letting employers’ mine their data with the job reference tool. “Such secrecy in dealing in consumer information directly contradicts the express purposes of the FCRA, which was enacted to promote accuracy, fairness, and the privacy of personal information assembled by credit reporting agencies,” the complaint argues.
The lawsuit says LinkedIn’s marketing of the job reference tool compounds the issue because it promotes its use as a type of clandestine background check feature, telling employers they can “get the real story on any candidate,” and “find references who can give real, honest feedback” opposed to those candidates provide.
Employers have increasingly relied on social media to screen potential job applicants and even terminate employees based on their digital paper trail. But that practice has led to discrimination and free speech concerns. For example, job applicants who list their faith as Muslim are significantly less likely to get a call back than those who describe themselves as Christian. Some states have even passed laws forbidding employers from asking potential employees for passwords to personal accounts on Facebook or Twitter.
USER PRIVACY PURPOSELY MUDDLED
Additionally, employees — regardless of their field — are at risk for being fired based on their social media presence. Social media blurs people’s personal and professional lives so much that employers often don’t distinguish between when employees make statements on their own time as a private citizen, and consider everything said online to be a reflection on the company itself. As a result, more employers are enforcing social media policies that give them leeway to fire employees based on what’s said online.
LinkedIn is only the latest social network to be accused of overstepping its bounds. Data mining has become a valuable tool for tech companies to learn more about their users and enhance their products. But the lack of clear-cut privacy protections and the growing amount of information companies collect are paving the way for legal troubles in the U.S. and abroad.