Privacy is a big deal these days, especially in regard to the misuse to which your personal information can be put. So why does your right to privacy go up in a puff of smoke the moment you start to look for work?

The things prospective employers will ask you, and the laws or legal loopholes that enable them to do so, are quite an eye-opener. For example, it is illegal in my country to discriminate against a person on the basis of their age. An employee is not allowed to ask a prospective employee how old they are during an interview. However, for some reason they are allowed to ask this question on an application form. So it is simple for an employer to rule you out on this basis before you step foot in the door, and you will have no way of proving this is what has happened. Other ways I have seen to circumvent this is to request ID as part of the screening process, or even asking for a video online interview, so the applicant can be seen without being present and their age estimated. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

ID checks open up the job-seeker to the potential of identity theft. The jobseeker must trust that their data is secure and will not be misused. It is customary for so-called job agencies to demand all of this information without offering any kind of job. This is for their convenience and not in the applicant’s best interests at all. Birth certificates, passports, driver’s licences, tax file numbers and bank details are all demanded before they will even condescend to speak to you. Some businesses, citing security reasons, will go even further. I was recently asked to provide a bank-card as one of my forms of id! (I declined.)

Some businesses will use reference-checking websites instead of courteously contacting referees in person, thus obliging the job-seeker to compromise the security of their referees by disclosing their details to a third party, who is not the potential employer. The referees will then receive suspicious-looking emails demanding they fill out lengthy questionnaires and requesting personal information from them. High risk, offensive, unprofessional (and a really good way to end up with no referees because your former colleagues aren’t going to put up with that!)

It seems that in this brave new world we live in, the unemployed, already vulnerable due to straightened financial circumstances leading to poverty, must be caused further injury by being forced into these high risk activities. A recent job I applied for enquired about criminal history, which is acceptable, though another potential area for discrimination. However it then went on to ask about traffic infringements, which could not possibly have any bearing on an office job. Why is this considered acceptable? It’s a mystery.

All of this information is collected without any offers of employment. What happens to your data? Oh well, they will tell you, we will keep it on file just in case of vacancies down the track. You are expected to trust the businesses with your data and that it is secure. Is it?

I was curious, so I did a google search – ‘job seeker data breach’. I found a disconcertingly large number of examples. Some may be familiar with the Page-Up data breach from last year. It is a multi-national software provider that many large companies use for their recruitment. If anyone is imagining that the data they provide as part of their application would not be kept for long, think again. I was contacted by two separate companies warning me about the data breach because I had applied for jobs with them, four years previously. Why was my information still there? How long is it kept? Is it ever deleted? There are many other examples. Think about the potential for identity theft with the type of information that was stolen. It’s horrifying. But businesses haven’t changed.

What about the current process of employers searching out applicants on social media? What happened to your own time being your own business? They won’t find out anything about your skills or abilities there, so what are they looking for? To see if your lifestyle equates to what they consider acceptable? Is that a valid basis for selection? It seems one might be straying back into discrimination territory here. After all, if the employer is a bigoted person, social media might tell them your race, sexual identity, political affiliations, faith. A bigot then throws out your application, and you’ll never know.

Essentially, if you are looking for work for any length of time, your private data ends up scattered far and wide, and open to fraud and exploitation. You do not have a choice but to provide this information if you want to be employed. I dare say that the majority of employers are honest enough, but it only takes one who isn’t, or who is careless and allows data to be breached. To the honest ones, I would also say this – why is your convenience more important than employee safety?

Something is very rotten here.

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