What is Truth?

The disturbing reality of privacy in the corporate world – 1.


‘Welcome to our company! We’re sure you’ll be a great asset!’

The mess that GDPR (and Brexit in the UK) created in terms of regulation enabled something beyond unpleasant. The practice of using the unclarity around the privacy topic to get users sign terms that were frowned upon even before the GDPR. The abuse of privacy laws has been unprecedented. My own everyday life has become flooded with data hyenas, coming on more aggressively than ever before, each spouting the same line: ‘it is due to the GDPR regulation’.

One of my recent memories of this is from a job application, where the company sent me a disclosure form about my ethnicity and sexuality, demanding it to be signed in the name of GDPR. Claiming they cannot proceed with my application without me providing these data due to the new GDPR regulation. Not the first sick twist on the privacy regulations, certainly not the last I would see.

Soon after that, came another application from a young tech company. In reality, they were a spin-off of a multi, but they claimed to be fintech startup, serving the finance sector. They weren’t, based on their incorporation, the were a basic technology startup. They casually unleashed a private investigation on the candidates like it was no biggy. It was a biggy for me, though, so I did some checks within my network.

To my surprise, it seemed to be a solid corporate trend, rooted in US practices, that has become more and more frequent in the old continent, too. Here in the UK, however, it’s even more disturbing, simply because employment is so strictly regulated already. Schooling and the social system is already such a thick net, the process of asking for a full background check is not just the repetition of what the system is already doing, but for me, the last act of complete objectification. The making of a corporate asset.  

I wasn’t aware of this growing trend, since the majority of tech startups, I worked with were genuine startups, where expertise has a high value (they either have that or a bucket of cash, but that will be a different story). This time however, I managed to bump into a multi spin-off, wearing the hat of a startup, to open the doors for an ecosystem full of money.

Behind closed doors, however, it was founded by people of old money, seeing workers as a different species, owning them like assets, even calling them ‘assets’ to their face. Let me describe my journey with them, which I see as my most dehumanising experience in the job industry to date. They greeted me:

‘Welcome to our company! We’re sure you’ll be a great asset!’

(Well, they were wrong, I quit in 5 days.)

Warning: the following content contains scenes that some readers may find disturbing. I definitely did.

my journey in the belly of the corporate monster:

Round #1

After the successful interviews

After only a couple of round, the time has came to send an offer to me so the recruiter asked me for the proof of right to work in the UK to proceed. In my case, this was paper-based. They haven’t heard of paper-based verification before. In their disbelief, the recruiters, him and his supervisor, started to call me 2 times a day to insist I ‘have my issue fixed’.

After blocking the recruiters on my phone, the HR of the company send me the phone number of the Home Office, to ‘help me’ to ‘get my issue fixed’. They also haven’t heard of paper verification before, simply erased it from that they heard I was saying. I informed them that the number was an auto line, so they called me to ‘guide me through’ the online process, that should work in every case, at end of which the website offered the same auto line to call. It was all starting to feel a bit like satire. The next day, still shocked from the level of incompetency they portrayed and treating me like Forest Gump, I sent them the link to the government’s guidelines on how to handle paper-based verification. They happily realised this is a very common process.

Round #2

The company’s HR department sent me the HireRight link (a company offering on demand employment background screening. They have a TrustPilot score of a smashing 1.2 stars!). They requested that I complete a form for 10 years address history, with contact details for all of them, plus 10 years of employment history, with contact details for all of them, and my all-time education history, with – you guessed it – contact details for all of them. Then, as they said, their colleagues in the Philippines would verify the data provided.

I wrote to the HR that I’m not comfortable to fill out these forms. Rather, I asked them to justify their need for this information. The HR representative expressed her understanding that I haven’t met this otherwise common process before, but this is a standard in every private company. As she explained, they all do that. Just for comparison, for my settlement status I only needed to provide the government with 5 years of address history, with no contact details. So, it seems that these private companies position themselves as a higher authority than the government itself.

I responded to her ‘explanation’ with quoting the GDPR 2018 regulation stating that all private data collected must be necessary and cannot be excessive. I asked her to justify why they needed to know where I lived for the past 10 years to do my job as a product person. The answer was, and I quote this: ‘We just need to know if those things in your CV are real’. What a horrible excuse. Out of curiosity, and just to pull at the loose thread a little more, I asked: ‘So If I didn’t live in those properties, I wouldn’t be able to do this job?’ The answer was: ‘Yes, that’s the standard process to verify your claims’. At that point I gave up and just didn’t fill the form.

I genuinely don’t get what kind of company they’re planning to build on this foundation of toxic paranoia.

Round #3

A couple of days later, the same HR representative wrote me an email requesting explanation on why I didn’t complete the form for their private investigation (background check as they called it), when she explained everything to me the last time I spoke to her. She said, I’d been OK with everything then, so asked why the form wasn’t completed. I confirmed that I wasn’t at all OK with that, I just stopped arguing with her over it.

At that point my blood was scorching. The message I got from this interaction was: if you show this company even a slight bit of distinctive personality, they won’t even care enough to remember you for it. They just want you to suck your thumb and get back to your place, asset.

I can’t remember ever being that angry at something for such a long time afterwards.  

Round #4

The HR woman, at a loss with what to do with me, set up an appointment between me and the COO (the guy introduced as a person who ‘couldn’t be any kinder even if he wanted to’). That all too kind man also explained to me that the background check only involves asking my previous places of employment to confirm that I worked there. They promised that they wouldn’t even ask for my salary breakdown, which is another industry standard, but they’re so cool, they don’t ask that. I was worried that my eyes might roll back so far into my skull that they got stuck.

I kept my cool anyway. Might as well play his game, I thought. So I asked him, if so, why it’s not accepted for me to deliver a confirmation of employment that was paper-based. His answer was: ‘Exactly, that’s what they’re gonna ask’. I quickly dropped that line of inquiry. Instead, I asked why on earth they needed my residential history, which is fully private and has nothing to do my work capabilities. I also asked why they needed to check my education history when my original degree is in a totally unrelated field. Cornered and frustrated, he answered: ‘You seem to only know what you’ve experienced in your little bubble so far, and you seem to have transparency issues, not wanting to reveal your background’. This is, in fact, textbook emotional abuse.

My internal response was: that’s fucking right! I do have transparency issues! As I don’t go to the shop naked, because it’s too much transparency for my taste, I don’t send my residential, employment and education history to a private tech company.

I own my data as I own my body!

While on the outside, I just said, that’s it then. The farewell of that ‘couldn’t be any kinder’ guy was: Good luck finding a company who doesn’t ask that.

My response: ‘I’ve managed to do so for the previous 10 years; I think I’ll be fine.’

And all the above events were compacted into 5 hellish days, end of which, I quit.

Next part 👀 (yep, there is more)

What is Truth?