Last week, the Federal Trade Commission gave approval to keep anything you posted publicly to Facebook/Twitter/Flickr/blogs and the Internet for up to seven years before it must be destroyed.
Forbes reports that the FTC have approved a start up company that monitors employees' internet presence, named "Social Intelligence Corporation." The company scours the internet for information about individuals, and will look at information that's public about a user, and provide it to potential employers upon request. It's worth noting that most employers will probably try and look you up online, but probably not to this level.
Social Intelligence has an important clarification: COO Geoffrey Andrews sent a statement via email this evening explaining that negative findings are kept on file but aren't reused when a new employer runs a check on you:
While we store information for up to seven years we don't "reuse" that information for new reports. Per our policies and obligations under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, we run new reports on applicants on each new search to ensure the most accurate and up-to-date information is utilized, and we store the information to maintain a verifiable chain-of-custody in-case the information is ever needed for legal reasons. We're not however building a "database" on individuals that'll be evaluated each time they apply for a job and potentially could be used adversely even if they've cleaned up their profiles.
Forbes tested this by obtaining a report from the company, and even though the user hid most of their details, they still managed to dig up some dirt because the user is a member of a public group that "leans towards racism" (picture one). In another test, they found that a user had been attempting to buy Oxycontin and Marijuana on Craigslist and reported this to the employer (picture two).
"We store records for up to 7 years as long as those records haven't been disputed," says Social Intelligence COO Geoffrey Andrews by email. "If a record is disputed and changed then we delete the disputed record and store the new record when appropriate."
The company limits its searches to what's publicly available, mining data from, in Andrews's words, "social networking websites (i.e., Facebook and others), professional networking websites (i.e., Linked In and others), blogs, wikis, video and picture sharing websites, etc.)." And a job applicant must acknowledge and approve the use of a social media background screen, just as they would a criminal and credit background check.
Up until today, it wasn't clear if this practice was entirely legal, but now that the FCC has approved it, the company is free to do as it pleases. Social Intelligence offers the services they provide to any company, and actually creates entire files on individuals, however they claim that they only use the databases as a "chain of custody" in case it's ever needed for legal reasons, and when they are approached by a company they'll run a new search and base the report on current data rather than past.
The best bet you've against a company like this's to lock down your Facebook profile and be careful what you tweet, share or blog about, because it could come back to bite you. Even small things such as "liking" an article or passing on one are included in this kind of information, so it's best to watch every activity performed online.