“People Search Engines” – Not an Option for Employers

A “people search engine” is a website that compiles information on people from sources such as white papers, public records, and social media content. This content is geared towards public interest – a resource for people wanting to look up information on social connections, teachers, etc. This information is not intended to be used for employment purposes. A recruiter or hiring manager that uses this information runs the risk of litigation under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

How so?

In the news recently, a people search engine called Spokeo was fined by the FTC for marketing its services to recruiters despite the company not following the FCRA’s guidelines for furnishing consumer reports as a consumer reporting agency (CRA).

Any third party that furnishes consumer reports (background checks) for employment purposes is considered a CRA.

Spokeo claimed that their website disclosed that the information could not be used for employment purposes, like many similar people search engines. The problem is that these disclosures are often buried in the footer of the webpage and would go unnoticed unless someone was specifically looking for them. In the eyes of the FTC, this isn’t enough to claim ignorance.

So how does this affect you as a recruiter?

Just as a CRA is responsible for following the FCRA when reporting information on someone for employment purposes, so is the hiring entity. The end user (e.g. the recruiter or hiring manager) must follow the guidelines of the FCRA. When you use a non-compliant website to obtain information, you run the risk of accessing information you are not allowed to use as part of your hiring decision.