Submitting a resume on the Internet could result in a privacy nightmare for would-be job seekers. Online resume databases could be using and selling personal information in ways never imagined by applicants, according to Pam Dixon and the San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC).
"In the information economy, job seekers' names, email addresses, and resumes have economic value, and this data often comprises a significant source of profit for job search sites and related businesses," says Dixon. She cautions that job seekers need to find the businesses, from resume writing services to online job sites, that are genuinely interested in helping job seekers, and avoid those that are focused on just making a profit from consumers' resumes and contact information data.
Resume databases in particular may be accessed by unwanted companies or people, and this can be problematic. "Online resume databases can pose serious potential privacy problems for job seekers," warns Dixon. Resumes may be stolen and then used in ways completely unrelated to consumers' job search efforts - for example, for "bulk resume" sales or for posting to other sites - without job seeker permission.
Ms. Dixon, an author and researcher, through public documents, uncovered a series of serious, significant consumer privacy violations at online resume databases while conducting research for a larger study. The problems she found were so egregious, she worked with the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse to publicly release the information in the form of a consumer notice entitled: "Resume Data Base Nightmare: Job Seeker Privacy at Risk," available at www.privacyrights.org/ar/Dixon-JobPrivacyRpt.htm. The notice is also available at www.pamdixon.com.
Public documents revealed situations in which resume files were downloaded and used without the consent of thousands of job seekers. In one situation, a site sold thousands of resumes to another job site, apparently without job seeker notification.
Beth Givens, director of the PRC, adds. "When job seekers post their resumes on a job search web site, they should be confident that these documents are not sold to or shared with other companies without their explicit consent." Unfortunately, the job search industry does not have laws or oversight that provide relief for consumers. "We call on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the online jobsite industry and establish guidelines for protecting job seeker privacy and curtailing deceptive business practices," said Givens.
The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and Pam Dixon have developed a guide to help consumers navigate online resume posting with an eye to maintaining important privacy controls, Fact Sheet 25, "Online Job Seeker Web Sites: Tips to Safeguard Your Privacy," available at www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs25-JobSeekerPriv.htm.
Pam Dixon's research on this project is funded with a grant from the Rose Foundation Consumer Privacy Rights Fund. Her consumer guide to online job sites and resume databases will be available later this year. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse is a nonprofit consumer advocacy program based in San Diego.