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Is Google Stalking OK?

During Tim O’Reilly’s keynote last night here at SAP TechEd ’07, he said that we’ve become the bionic man. Namely, that we’re (well, us here, dear readers) always hooked up to the web, hand on laptop.

Naturally, when I meet a new person, I Google the hell out of them. I want to find flickr, Facebook, blogs, old USEnet posts, everything.

This has been normal for me sine the days of BBSes and gopher, and I do it all the time now — I was just hunting down Jeff Nolan’s flickr stream.

Put another way, “Google Stalking” is in no way weird to me.

Turns out, it seems to freak other people out.

Indeed, recently someone asked me if it was ethical, even legal to Google Stalk someone who’d applied for a job. That is, would it be discrimination if you decided not to hire someone because, well, those last 3 months of blog posts just made them seem like an asshole?

My first reaction, of course, is that it’s totally ethical. But, the number of times that people have asked me about this topic makes me wonder if there is something, well, weird going on there.

What do you think, dear readers? Will we see a law-suit and resulting HR policy along the lines of “don’t Google Stalk potential employees”?

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Categories: Community, Ideas, Social Software.

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13 Responses

  1. A couple of things … if you Google me, you'll find a lot of stuff I've put out there. So if I object to you Googling me, am I being realistic and fair? I suspect not.

    I also think your attitude to this depends somewhat on your Net-nativeness, or place in/out of the echo chamber – there would no doubt be lots of people who don't yet realise how much stuff there might be out there about them. For them the shock is not so much that you are looking, but that there is something to find …

  2. Like you, I Google people all the time, and I likewise expect to be Googled. It is public information and "fair game". I always start with Google before an interview to see what I can learn about the other person. I Google friends and co-workers to find their blogs, twitter, Flickr images, etc.

    Maybe I'm just accustomed to it. Frequently, people who are distant acquaintances will mention something that I blogged about or talked about online. I even expect it and am surprised when people don't just use Google to find things like my blog.

    I also agree with Ric – I think it has to do with our "Net-nativeness, or place in/out of the echo chamber".

  3. Stalking? I think it is simple due diligence.

    Don't forget that companies often pay for background checks before making a hire. Some companies will also retrieve and inspect a credit report.

    As far as I can tell, information that I've left behind is fair game for a potential employer to use to help or hinder my application for employment.

    It seems to me that your online footprint may be a very effective adjunct to a more formal resume. What if you forgot to mention some cool side project or a paper that you wrote long ago and that turns up in a Google search? What if your tendency to write carefully worded posts to some forum system shows potential employers that you have untapped writing, technical, or social skills?

    To put the shoe on the other foot, I am generally quite disappointed if a potential candidate has no online presence whatsoever, and I do ask about this in interviews.

  4. Unprompted, a law firm’s HR person almost apologized to me for googling me a couple weeks ago. (I knew they had since one of my interviewers had mentioned my blog.) It seemed very odd to me, frankly- I certainly have googled all my interviewers, so I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t return the favor.

  5. I've encountered the same freaked-out reaction, but of course I do exactly the same thing, as I'm sure most of your readers do. Hell, I did the pre-Google equivalent in college, reading the dissertations and published works of most of my professors. And yes, they were almost always a little freaked out by this if they found out. The tide is shifting, though, as faculty expect to at least to be checked on

    I see nothing unethical about googling job candidates. It is, as Jeff Barr suggests, due diligence.

    However, I work for a government agency, where the hiring process is so tightly regimented that it's a wonder we ever hire anyone. Interview questions are carefully vetted by HR, and deviation from those questions is verboten. This is to protect the candidate from questions that employers are not allowed to ask. (Actually, HR's level of involvement varies quite a bit. In my own office, they never ask to see the questions. I've been involved in search committees, though, where they not only review questions, they are present at every contact with the condidates.)

    I can easily imagine that if given a chance, a gun-shy HR office would actively seek to prevent googling of job applicants. And we'll probably see lawsuits.

  6. Google "stalking" may be off-putting, but researching someone's online presence using Google is not. Heck, for someone like me whose been online ever since there has been an online, I find it normal.

    Now the fun comes when you have a name like mine. My journal page doesn't appear until page 3 of Google's results. So sure, yep, I'm a painter, politician and professional skateboarder 🙂

  7. I just had a conversation with my boss, who's in the process of hiring to fill 6 new positions (developers, BAs). He is also new to the State, having come from the private sector. It had never occurred to him to google a candidate, which surprised me, and as we talked he became increasingly wary of doing so.

    On the one hand, he saw the benefits. "Responsible hiring practices," as he put it. Due diligence.

    What will keep him away from Google is fear of what he will uncover. If he turns up a assault charges, or a chronic DWI history, these are things that are bound to influence him, whether he wants them to or not, but that legally shouldn't. If he hires someone knowing about a history of violent assault, and that someone turns out to be abusive to employees, what position does that put him in? But if he doesn't hire because of this knowledge and a lawsuit is pressed, he'd be in the position of having to explain why.

    Colleges are warning students to be careful what they put online. That MySpace/Facebook page with pix of wild parties might come back to haunt you, costing you a job offer. That's the theory, anyway.

  8. Stalking? Rubbish! It’s just using information that people have chosen to make public about themselves.

    Just two words of caution. First, be careful of namespace conflicts. If you Google me, you’ll discover that I’m either a famous chemist, or a famous playwright and novelist, or a nondescript developer and blogger.

    Secondly, apply a statute of limitations on the material you will take into consideration. People change.

  9. the problem is that the information is not reliable. There could be different individuals sharing the same name, someone falsely posting as the individual or just harassment posts. Lets face it, its pretty easy to make someone look like an "ass hole" online in minutes.

    I wonder how many people are posting false information about themselves to impress folks like you?

  10. well, i love you. because you care. i think more people should use this tool of seeking, like technophiliac compassion. ^.^

    lauren liddelMay 28, 2008 @ 11:30 am
  11. Not everything posted on the internet is accurate though, so if you are googling people and using the info you find out there against them, that is unfair, immature and perhaps discriminatory. You may also lose a potentially good employee because of inaccurate information. Who cares what people blog about, you should hire people based on Skills, Education, and Experienc.

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