"That you may ruminate"

…On Background Checks.

Posted by Steve on December 20, 2008

The Google search results for my name have become interesting. The top result is my profile on Facebook (which I’ve had since back when Facebook was only available for students at a dozen universities, 5 or 6 years ago. It isn’t as good as it was two or three years ago.) The second is a ThatLead entry that correctly identifies my name and employer, and will presumably sell you my work contact info as part of a directory of sales leads. Of course, since that info’s freely available on my business card and the signature block of all my emails from work, and I don’t have any purchasing authority, I’d say that my contact info isn’t worth buying, but you know, more power to you if you want to pay for it anyway.

The other entries on the list start filling in little details of my life: the only blog comment I’ve left with my full name, the softball league page with my team’s roster, a few pages related to my short time in grad school and what I did there, Facebook pages for my friends, things like that. You could start to put together a decent picture of my life.

Or you could just click on link #4 and buy a background check on me for only $39.99.

Now, I’ve had background checks performed on me before. Twice when I applied for apartments, and at least once for employment. Or at least, I signed forms consenting to have the checks performed, I don’t know that they actually were done. Regardless, my guess is that it wasn’t from the Link #4 website, if those checks were in fact performed. That website seems kinda sketchy to me, and I’d like to think that whoever my apartment gets background checks from isn’t quite so linkfarmesque.

I’m not sure how I feel about them being available about me online to anyone, though, rather than just to specific people I’ve signed a form giving permission to gather them. Not severely worried, I guess, but still, privacy and anonymity are good. More than that, there’s people who have real and legitimate cause to want strict limits on the availability of information about them. I once knew a woman who worked in a domestic violence shelter, and she was quite adamant about keeping information about her out of phonebooks, off the internet, and out of people’s hands. No doubt her coworkers and their clients felt and acted the same.

Me, I just kinda worry about them being inaccurate. I’m half-tempted to buy a background check on myself, just to make sure there’s no mistakes in it. In principle, same as checking my credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com (the wholly-legit website run by the 3 credit bureaus and mandated by the Fair and Accurate Credit Reporting Act of 2003). After all, next time I move I don’t want the credit report my new apartment complex runs to tell them, say, that I was convicted of arson back in 1972 (I was not even born in 1972 – pretty sure both parents were virgins, actually – and I have never committed, let alone been convicted of, arson).

Of course, had I in fact been convicted of arson, a prospective landlord’s got the right to find that out. And if, say, I don’t pay my speeding ticket on time and a warrant goes out for my arrest or however that works, then in the event I get laid off and have to find a new job, prospective employers would have a right to find out about that (and accordingly decide to not hire me).

So, background checks. Useful, but I don’t like them being sold on the internet.

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