A report in TechCrunch today tells of a law proposed in Germany that would prevent companies from conducting a search about a prospective hire on Facebook or anywhere that would likely contain substantially personal information. Apparently a Google search would be OK, as long as the employer didn’t view any results that were too old or obviously not posted by or under the control of the candidate (think tagged videos). This would still allow searches of professional networking sites like LinkedIn and Xing, which are unlikely less likely to have pictures of drunken parties (unless you’re applying to be a bartender).
According to TechCrunch:
The new law, which has a wider remit related to privacy for employees, has been drafted by Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, according to Die Welt and Süddeutsche Zeitung newspapers. It’s said to be the result of months of negotiations between the different parties in Germany’s coalition government, and is set to be approved by the German cabinet on Wednesday.
The article goes on to question the effectiveness of the law, as there’s no way to prove that you did or didn’t go on Facebook to look at a person’s profile. Also, there’s an obvious question about whether or not people should be responsible for the things they post to the internet. Personally, I’m in the camp that believes that this law could be a good way to bridge the generational gap as more young people live their lives online with little regard for old notions of privacy. Older generations, who grew up before the Internet was a ubiquitous utility available to anyone anywhere, still look on in horror at how much information “kids” make public. It’s sad, in a way: nearly every article in the local Bar journals on social media is about how to protect yourself from spies or how to use profile pages to nail your opponent in court. Rarely, if ever, do they talk about the benefits of social media. To them it’s just another thing of which we must be afraid.
Pretty soon, though, all that embarrassing information won’t matter because everyone will have information online that would be considered scandalous today. It’s sort of the way tattoos have gone from being this completely anti-social (in Western cultures anyway), rebellious thing that indicated you were trouble and would have prevented you from getting a job anywhere twenty years ago, to being a widely accepted form of self-expression today. I mean, my mom never would have let my sister get one if this was 1990 instead of 2010 (that and she would have been 6, but you get the idea).
We’re in the early days of social media and a system that retains information for ever. We will adapt. But in the meantime, I say go for it, Germany. See how it works out. We’ll be watching and we promise not to judge you too much if it doesn’t pan out.