Online job hunting's a risky business

Hunting down a job online might be a privacy hazard for IT professionals who risk having personal details passed on to third parties for profiling purposes.

Confidential information is being improperly sold, shared or stolen, according to a study by the World Privacy Forum, a newly formed non-profit organisation.

The study examined more than 70 online job sites across the globe as well as employment kiosks, resume databases and resume distribution services.

Australia's Information Technology Contract and Recruitment Association (ITCRA) estimates more than 250,000 IT professionals are using an estimated 50 online job sites that cater to the ICT industry.

Confirming incidents of job information misuse locally, privacy and security expert Terry Aulich described such tawdry practices as "appalling".

The managing director of Aulich & Company, which has undertaken government, airline and telco privacy audits, Aulich said there are some online recruitment sites that let job seekers lodge job applications with no intention of providing work, they are simply gathering information.

As a former senator, Aulich chaired several parliamentary committees dealing directly with these kind of breaches of the Privacy Act.

"Any Web site that asks a job seeker to enter personal information should make the seeker aware what purpose the information is going to be used for – that's simply part of the national privacy principles," Aulich said.

During the study World Privacy Forum executive director Pam Dixon found on-selling of personal data as well as undisclosed tracking and profiling of users along with the widespread use of third-party cookies.

Dixon said little effort was made to restrict the collection of data on online job sites although job seekers were expected to provide a substantial amount of personal data before they could submit applications.

A spokesperson for one of Australia's largest online job sites, MyCareer.com, said that although the information collected is used as a marketing tool to assist the company with marketing strategies it was not sold to third parties.

The spokesperson also said the onus is on the user to be wary about what personal details are provided.

"There is only so much a company can do to protect its customers. You have to place the onus on the user. The user needs to be more vigilant about releasing private details," he said.

How information is collected and used

The use of third-party cookies on job search sites has increased with the confidential data of job seekers frequently passed on to third parties and advertisers.

Even when they give consent, job seekers might not realise the full extent to which their data is being used, because job search sites have become more sophisticated about finding legal ways of sharing job-seeker data.

Few employment kiosks explain how confidential information is used or stored.

On the positive side, most job sites now post privacy policies and have processes in place to respond to privacy-related queries. However, there are still job sites that insist on users registering prior to providing access to job advertisements despite an increase in a number of sites allowing anonymous access to job listings.

- Jaikumar Vijayan

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