Should You "Spy" on Employees Through Social Networking Sites?

We are all aware that someone can Google us (this blog is the #1 hit for me!) if we apply for a job, or even if we already work somewhere. But, there are lots of things Google doesn't index, like profiles on sites that require registration.

A friend recently told me that he finally tried one of the social networking sites that people keep telling him about. He did a few searches to see who he might know on the site, and he found several people that worked for him. Then it got really interesting. The profiles on this site include information about sexual orientation, drug and alcohol consumption, and a space to list how you feel about your job. These are optional to fill in, of course, but many people do nonetheless. My friend found some shocking information on the profiles of people he knew.

Some would argue that you shouldn't put information in a profile anywhere, on any site, that you wouldn't want anyone and everyone to know. That's not the issue here. What I want to know is this…Is it ethical, as a manager, to subscribe to these sites with the primary intention of gaining information about employees and/or job candidates? Will we ever see a business model in which a company pays for access to profiles from membership sites of all kinds, sucks in that data, correlates it with real people the best it can, and sells it along with background checks etc.?

This would have been a good question for me to ask on the ethics exam in my Information Systems course.

  • Jay

    Should they? No, as a matter of… I dunno, staying pleasantly human.

    Will they? No doubt in many cases.

    It’s the same thing over and over. If you wouldn’t want the worst possible people knowing, don’t put that info out publicly connectable to you, at least not easily so.

  • COD

    I don’t see how it is any worse than googling somebody. If the data is out there and readily available you can’t blame somebody for looking…

  • Daran

    Follow-up question: if you answered no, does your answer change if mistakes by the employees in question can endanger lives (working with either medicines, chemicals or heavy machinery)?

  • A employer should never check someones profile on a social networking site it’s there personal life who cares what people do on there own time social networking sites are great for being able to show who you really are and it should be left as that.

  • Amber

    My former boss creeped me out when she asked me if I had signed an online petition regarding animal rights. I was like, “Yeah, why, did you Google me?” and she said, “Something like that…”

  • An employer has every right to ethically and legally research their employee using whatever means are at their disposal. Broadcasting incriminating information about oneself is insightful enough without the information. To think otherwise is shortsighted and misguided.

    If you wouldn’t say it to your mother, don’t say it.