The Fair Credit Reporting Act was enacted in 1970 to protect consumers from being unfairly denied a mortgage, rental apartment, or job based on incorrect credit histories. With the advent and growth of the Internet and social media, the Act has all sorts of applications that its creators could never have dreamed of.
Although, like most social media, LinkedIn provides many of its services for free, it also offers a service call “Reference Search” to its premium account holders who pay a monthly fee. This service allows an employer or recruiter to generate a list of people in its own network who worked at the same company at the same time as a job candidate. It also allows premium members to contact the people who appear on those lists using the site’s messaging system. All this can be done without the job candidate ever knowing.
Tracee Sweet, the lead plaintiff in the class action lawsuit against LinkedIn, applied for a job at a hotel chain via the social media site. She claims she was denied the job because the hotel company, without telling her in advance, used the site’s reference search to locate references on her.
Joseph Roualdes, a spokesman for LinkedIn, said the company takes its member privacy very seriously and that it intends to fight the lawsuit, which it insists has no merit. He said that, “A reference search, which is only available to premium account holders, simply lets a searcher locate people in their network who have worked at the same company during the same time period as a member they would like to learn more about. … A reference search does not reveal that member’s nonpublic information.”
Julie Brill, a member of the Federal Trade Commission, said in a recent interview that they “have made clear that the F.C.R.A. applies to services offered over the Internet and mobile apps.” According to the recent lawsuit against LinkedIn, that includes the reference lists provided on the site.
LinkedIn is different from the companies that use the Internet to gather intelligence on consumers because members voluntarily post information about themselves on the social media site. They post their job histories with the express purpose of broadening their professional networks and improving their job prospects. This search function on LinkedIn though, is creating a list of references outside the candidate’s control, or even knowledge.
LinkedIn’s user agreement expressly states that use of the website gives the company the right to “use, copy, modify, distribute, publish, and process information and content” that members contribute. Some argue that, if you don’t like LinkedIn’s user agreement, you can simply cancel your account.
However, the alleged problem with the reference search, as the lawsuit argues, is that users may not be aware that these searches are being conducted. Although LinkedIn claims that the reference search “locates people in your network who can provide reliable feedback about a job candidate” and that the names generated are “trusted references for job candidates” the reality is that many of the names generated have only tangential connections to the candidate being searched.Our Elgin, Illinois consumer rights private law firm handles individual and class action predatory lending, unfair debt collection, lemon law and other consumer fraud cases that government agencies and public interest law firms such as the Illinois Attorney General may not pursue. Class action lawsuits our law firm has been involved in or spear-headed have led to substantial awards totalling over a million dollars to organizations including the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the National Consumer Law Center, and local law school consumer programs. The Chicago consumer lawyers at DiTommaso Lubin Austermuehle are proud of our achievements in assisting national and local consumer rights organizations obtain the funds needed to ensure that consumers are protected and informed of their rights. By standing up to consumer fraud and consumer rip-offs, and in the right case filing consumer protection lawsuits and class-actions you too can help ensure that other consumers’ rights are protected from consumer rip-offs and unscrupulous or dishonest practices.
Our Schaumburg and Arlington Hts. consumer attorneys provide assistance in fair debt collection, consumer fraud and consumer rights cases including in Illinois and throughout the country. You can click here to see a description of the some of the many individual and class-action consumer cases our Chicago consumer lawyers have handled. A video of our lawsuit which helped ensure more fan friendly security at Wrigley Field can be found here. You can contact one of our Aurora consumer protection attorneys who can assist in consumer fraud, consumer rip-off, lemon law, unfair debt collection, predatory lending, wage claims, unpaid overtime and other consumer, or consumer class action cases by filling out the contact form at the side of this blog or by clicking here. You can also call our toll free number at (877) 990-4990.