If you’ve read my previous piece about the joys of having your privacy violated in the tech industry, what comes up in this article likely, and unfortunately, won’t surprise you.
I’m simply putting this out there as a cautionary tale for others wishing to enter the field, who are likely being told at every turn that this level of invasive questioning is not only standard, but ‘required’. I don’t think one would even need to be a privacy advocate to find this disturbing. At its simplest, this is a story of objectification and corporate abuse.
The New journey
The previous story was not where my experiences with privacy exploitation stopped, because I still needed a new job. I kept interviewing. As a strong professional with quite an experience in interviewing as well, I soon got a new offer from another company. Just to be on the safe side, I asked the hiring manager about the background check upfront. He said their process was very simple! They just required 2 contact details from my earlier companies to call, oh, and there was also a tiny little background check via a specialised investigator company. My inner response was: Smile and wave Paul, just smile and wave.
Of course, the agent called me shortly after, saying that she heard I don’t ‘do’ background checks. I explained her, I do the necessary ones (proof of address, right to work, standard DBS) but won’t consent to any private investigation or any cold calling my previous workplaces. Her first question was: ‘Is there a specific problem you have with this?’ – no kidding, she asked that. I said, yes, it’s a privacy intrusion, that’s my specific problem with that.
Since I was a super wonderful professional, they were willing to drop the investigation on me, and only asked for 2 references to call and discuss me behind my back. I was quite confused. With that, they literally admitted that they are just judging by appearance and only insisted on investigation when the look is less neat. Rest assured, I’m politically neat-looking. I don’t usually get randomly searched at the airport (empathy for those who do).
Yet asking for 2 references to be cold called had another message as well: ‘your present in not enough, we want to own your past. We want access to your carefully-created network and the long journey it took you to create it. It’s not yours, it’s the company’s’. You have no privacy, you have no possession, you are just an asset, we buy and sell between us’.
I said no to the request. Simply. So here were again, with them calling a C-suite member to deal with me. In this case, they set up a call with the SEO. SEO decided I look neat enough, no need to call former employees to gossip about me, and so hired me. Wasn’t a good move, to be honest. The company was just as mistreating and abusive as their hiring process, so I left them 3 months later.
Since then, I don’t argue, nor even explain my distaste for background checks. I just shuffle out from the interview process with an excuse as to why I can’t continue. No worth of doing these rounds every single time, only to end up in a company that I’d leave pretty soon anyway.
Why? Because as you saw from the above, all of the employees of these companies were literally insulted that I didn’t ‘just do what I was asked to’. Because they did, they gave away all their data for free with no question asked. Whatever the Company asked, was an order for them, who are they to question that?
And if they didn’t question anything, who am I to do so?
Today, I just leave such companies behind. Otherwise, they’ll send in a somebody in a suit to belittle me and try and make me bend. The most common excuse I hear as to why I can’t be hired without putting my entire life on display is that ‘they’re protecting the company from a bad hire’. Like they’re a bunch of fragile good guys and everyone out there is a lunatic.
At the ‘fancier’ VC-funded tech startups, they often also cite that a new hire must be ‘justified’ for the investors. In common tongue, this means that their investors don’t trust them having the competence to filter out nuts without a personal history deep-dive. With that, the decision-makers can also get rid of their responsibility over the hire, saying references told them so, hands washed.
The intention nevertheless is clear; the company wants full control over everything and everyone that comes in, to create a sense of safety by owning the employee’s past, present, future and entire social and personal identity. The price they pay for this arrogance is higher than they think.