How Big Data Hurts Workers

The most direct fear many people have is that employers and potential employers will access information on data platforms and use it in ways that deny them jobs or services.   Horror stories already abound:

  • A teacher was fired for complaining about getting sick from illnesses caught from her students after jokingly referring to her kids a as “germ bags” on Facebook.[i]
  • A judge allowed Wal-Mart to subpoena materials from Facebook, Myspace and Meetu.com to challenge an employee claim of work-related injury causing him head and neck pain.[ii]

In fact, a survey found that one in ten young people have been rejected for a job because of their social media profile.[iii]  Many schools report using Google, Facebook, YouTube and other sites to check out student sin determining scholarships.[iv]  For many companies, their job monitoring potential and current employees is assisted by companies like Spokeo, a search technology that compiles information about millions of identifiable individuals from other social networks and hundreds of other online and offline sources, including real estate listings and marketing surveys.  The company has featured banners inviting “HR Recruiters – Click Here Now!” to get information about potential hires.[v]

While a few states have taken action to restrict such misuse of social media data, there is a broad need for federal and state action. 

[i] Ki Mae Heussner, “Teacher Loses Job After Commenting About Students, Parents on Facebook,” Aug. 19, 2010, http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/facebook-firing-teacher-loses-job-commenting-students-parents/story?id=11437248

[ii] Ledbetter v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2009 WL 1067018 (D. Colo. 2009)

[iii] “Facebook costing 16-34s jobs in tough economic climate,” On Device Research, May 29, 2013; http://ondeviceresearch.com/blog/facebook-costing-16-34s-jobs-in-tough-e...

[iv] Kathleen Pender. “Scholarship providers vet students' social networks.” San Francisco Chronicle, March 6, 2012;


[v] Lori Andrews, I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy (2013), p. 9-10.