Balance between privacy and the public record

Todd Vandenbark

Is internet privacy an oxymoron?According to the AllFacebook blog and PC Magazine, the FTC has agreed to allow Social Intelligence Corp to  collect and keep files of social media users’ posts as part of a background-checking service for screening job applicants. The company claims it will keep this record for seven years unless you dispute it. Social Intelligence Corp. also claims it will run a new report each time information on a particular applicant is requested while keeping previous information only “to maintain a verifiable chain-of-custody in-case the information is ever needed for legal reasons.” And the FTC has agreed that this does not violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Writers have argued whether or not we do, or should, have a right to be forgotten. Tessa Mayes of the Guardian says no because it “degrades the concept of rights” and discounts the relationship between the individual and the society. Google claims this violates the objectivity of the Internet. And what about racist, sexist or other degrading comments by people running for public office: should those eventually be forgotten?

Last year the European Union proposed a law that would let users “sue websites for invading their privacy and would have a right to be ‘forgotten’ online” (The Telegraph). Could one person sabotage another’s job hunt by setting up a fake profile and loading it with racist, homophobic and violent images and writing? Social Intelligence Corp claims tells us what they will or will not do with this information, but will they provide free reports similar to free credit reports that are required by law so we can check?

Libraries have long operated under the premise of honoring privacy as much as possible. When a book is returned to the library, that patron’s record is cleared, and no record kept of what was read. The American Library Association’s “Library Bill of Rights” includes statements and interpretations on privacy that lawmakers and regulating bodies such as the FTC would do well to consider.

Where do you come down on this issue? What is not being done that should be done?