A social networking site is a website on which users can post personal information. It resembles a blog, but with the added value of providing tools for developing interaction with other users and filters to determine who has access to the data available.
The main online social networking sites are FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace.
The risks related to naïve usage of these sites, especially for online reputation, have been raised on many occasions. In November 2007, ENISA, the EU agency for network and information security, warned in a special report against so-called 'digital dossier aggregation’, after many cases of career-related negative consequences had been reported (EurActiv 01/11/07).
ENISA - located in Heraklion, Crete - was established as an EU agency in September 2005, in recognition of the increased importance that the EU attaches to communication networks.
When asked how they collect information about people they plan to hire, 43% of European human resources professionals surveyed reply that they analyse the online reputation of the candidate, mainly through search engines, social networking websites, personal sites and blogs.
In Germany, 59% of recruiters make use of personal data collected on the Internet for the evaluation of a candidate, 47% in the UK, and 23% in France. The EU average is much lower than the US, where 79% of HR experts scan the Web in search of personal information for recruiting purposes.
The report, carried out by market research firm Cross-Tab and commissioned by Microsoft, shows that 23% of recruiters have rejected candidates on the basis of their online reputation. This percentage hits 41% in the UK, while it remains at 16% in Germany and 14% in France. In the US, which is at the cutting edge of the online world, 70% of HR professionals have refused job-seekers based on data found online.
The main reason for rejecting candidates is the discovery of "inappropriate comments and text written by the candidate online". Recruiters admit to being negatively influenced by information on the candidate's lifestyle seen on the Web, or by "unsuitable photos or videos" found on the Internet.
Consumers underestimate impact of online reputation
Although recruiters acknowledge that they rely heavily on information collected online, consumers continue to underestimate the value of their online reputation.
Only 9% of British consumers interviewed think that personal information available on the Web can affect their job-seeking, but 41% of UK recruiters confirmed they have rejected candidates on the basis of their online reputation.
Likewise in Germany and France, consumers tend not to be concerned enough about the private data they put online. Only 13% of Germans and 10% of French admit to such fears.
The survey was conducted between 10 and 23 December 2009, using as a sample 1,010 European HR professionals and 831 consumers from Germany, Britain and France. The same poll was carried out in parallel in the US.
The EU response
The incoming EU commissioner in charge of data protection, Viviane Reding, has made clear in a number of speeches that she intends to work on increasing citizens' awareness of the dangers of spreading their personal information across the Web.
She also stressed that "data protection rules must be updated to keep abreast of technological change to ensure the right to privacy," clearly citing online social networks, such as Facebook, MySpace or Twitter, as sources of danger for naïve users.
The EU has already pushed social network managers to make the online profiles of under-18s non-searchable and private by default. On 9 February, while celebrating Safer Internet Day, the Commission will publish an assessment of the recommendation's implementation.
New initiatives are in the pipeline too. Reding has already underlined that during her new five-year mandate she plans to review the two main pieces of legislation on online privacy: the Data Protection Directive and the E-Privacy Directive.