I recently applied, and attended an interview, for an online community manager role at a prominent Melbourne based company that operates an online market for digital goods including software and media. Let’s call them Embargo. A few days after the interview I received a phone call from the company. Unfortunately for me they had chosen another candidate for the role.

They offered me some feedback about my performance in the interview. They said that while all my answers to their questions were more than satisfactory, which indicated that I had all the skills and experience required to be successful in the role, they were concerned about two issues.

First, I had mentioned in the interview that I am concerned about my privacy online. I asked to what extent the community manager needed to be publicly identifiable online, specifically in terms of a photo of them being published alongside their name in public facing websites and forums, effectively providing metadata about the image for search engines to index.

I said I was very reluctant to allow my identity to be published in this manner. The issue baffled them and they didn’t know how to respond. I explained that being visually anonymous was important to me. I have always known that being anonymous is an asset as a restaurant reviewer. I have always protected my name and my image to do my best to remain anonymous. Furthermore, I explained that I had suffered a nasty period of online stalking and real world harassment in 2010 that continued until 2012.

They suggested during the interview that the use of an avatar could be a solution and I agreed with that. I indicated that it was also acceptable to use a real photo of me in secure environments, such as intranets and member-only forums. I have no problem using Skype to talk to remote clients and stakeholders. Photos in public online media and thus search engines are my main concern.

Over time I have managed to remove (as far as I can tell, and with the cooperation of friends) all images of me from the internet. I believe it is currently impossible to find any image of me in search engine results and I’d like it to remain that way. I also benefit from having a very common name (Brian Ward is nearly as common as John Smith). There are many of us for search engines to find and that helps me to disappear into this virtual crowd.

After the interview, my interest in privacy became an issue for Embargo. An inconvenience they couldn’t be bothered dealing with. An HR issue they’d never thought of and one they now reluctantly acknowledged they would need to address in future. Indeed.

The second issue of concern to them was the tone or attitude I had expressed in a blog post. They didn’t mention which one, but I suspect it was my article about how a previous potential employer, Incsub, offered me an illegal contract that violated by workplace rights. I am aware that there is some relationship or connection between Incsub and Embargo. They’re similar entities doing similar things in Melbourne. Big fish in a small pond far from Silicon Valley.

The person who had interviewed me (and who was the manager of the position) indicated through what they said that they believed they could judge my communication skills and workplace professionalism through how I write as an individual in my personal life.

I protested. I told them that it was narrow-minded and unjustifiable of them to assume that I am incapable of moderating my behaviour based on context and circumstance, such as whether I am acting in a personal capacity or as an employee. That they had no evidence to base this assertion on.

They admitted that there was nothing in my interview performance they didn’t like in terms of my communication skills. They also admitted, in relation to this issue, that they were judging me entirely on my blog. I said that their arbitrary and irrational judgement was inappropriate and discriminatory. The manager hastily withdrew the entire comment and got rather flustered.

I’ve written at length previously about work / life separation, and specifically in the context of the online world, and the ideas need repeating. Employers do not own us. What we lawfully do in our own time is our own business and must not be used to judge us or discriminate against us in the workplace.

Embargo expects potential employees to give up their right to determine and manage their own privacy. They also expect them to give up all rights to free speech, such as important legal or political speech about workplace rights.

This is the current state of the information industry. Local players pose and pretend they’re Silicon Valley companies operating under the conveniently lax employment laws that exist in the US. It’s very inconvenient for them that Australia has compulsory annual leave and other fundamental industrial protections for workers.

It’s also inconvenient for them to have workers talking about these conditions and helping each other. Incsub threatened to sue me for defamation for my entirely factual reporting of their unconscionable behaviour. I hope my action led to some of their staff obtaining significant amounts of back-pay for illegally withheld annual leave.

Complaining about workers’ rights in the information industry is a lonely business. No union is an obvious fit for highly educated and skilled knowledge economy workers like me. Unions are out of favour with white collar workers in particular. They now seem to be as corporate and corrupt as the corrupt corporations and conservative governments they oppose.

Most people are too passive and scared of conflict to stand up for themselves. But if we in Australia say nothing about employers trampling and undermining our rights we will end up as vulnerable and badly treated as employees in the US. It would be better for employers not to investigate employees via social media, but there’s no stopping it now.

What should be changed is how this is viewed by the law. There’s a gap there too. As I discovered in my complaint to the Fair Work Ombudsman about Incsub, the Fair Work Ombudsman’s office was very reluctant to admit that complaints about discrimination at the interview stage prior to employment are something they can investigate. They did their best to shift responsibility elsewhere.

Discriminating against potential employees for their harmless personal opinions, which are irrelevant to their employers, should be illegal. Asking such questions or researching such behaviour should be understood by employers to be as unacceptable as asking interviewees what their religion is.

Employers are not helping themselves through such actions. They don’t understand that the intellectual capacity I exercise in writing as a hobby is the same intellectual capacity I could flex for their benefit, if only they could overcome their pathetic indefensible small-mindedness.

if you want this job you will give up your rights to privacy and free speech

10 thoughts on “if you want this job you will give up your rights to privacy and free speech

    • 21 November 2014 at 6:01 pm
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      Interesting. I generally do not make it publicly known who I work for. This is offline knowledge for only a close few. Depending on the circumstances I may list my current employer in my Linkedin profile, but I don’t always do this for privacy reasons.

      I don’t reference or link to personal online properties (websites, Facebook or Twitter accounts) in employers’ content (for example I would not put a link to my personal Twitter account in my staff profile on a public facing employer’s website or in an employer’s intranet).

      To give another recent example, a freelance client recently asked me to like their company’s Facebook page. I politely declined as, apart from helping them improve their website, and Facebook and Linkedin profiles, I have no knowledge of or interest in their industry sector or business.

      Liking their page would not be an honest representation of my opinions, and my personal Facebook profile is private property. It is not an asset I rent to clients.

      Reply
  • 22 November 2014 at 1:33 am
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    You are a risk. Read your blogs and an employer sees the profile of someone who takes on even those who he hasn’t yet worked for. The blog where you mouthed off at the receptionist at the interview? Seriously? Epic fail of interview 101. Skills aren’t enough. Ombudsmen and complaints everywhere. I’ve hired plenty and skills are the last thing to be satisfied. You have “pain in the arse employee who will annoy others” written all over you and they fear all they will see is you bitching about them all over the net. You might well be correct about your rights, but just like you don’t want your image on the net, they don’t want to read about you bashing them on your own website where you control the right to reply. No disrespect to you, but as someone who has hired over 30 people in professional environment, I’d run from you at a million miles an hour irrespective of your skills. Good employers want people to buy into their culture, who get on with the job without fuss and perform and add to the work environment. You have clock watching, union calling, sickie taking, legal action instigating staff member written all over you, even if that isn’t true. HR managers (who I can’t stand) would see you coming from a mile away. As you say if your name wasn’t common, they’d find you and you’d struggle for an interview. There’s a great book out there called “the rules of work” by Richard Templar. You need this desperately.

    Reply
    • 22 November 2014 at 11:07 am
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      I didn’t mouth off at the receptionist. I was polite and professional. You are incapable of rational discussion. Fuck off.

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      • 22 November 2014 at 10:40 pm
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        You piss off your potential employer before you even met them. Someone with your self proclaimed intelligence surely should be able to handle a receptionist? My reply seems to have hit a raw nerve? Too close to the truth I suspect. Looks like we’ll all be enjoying Brian’s next instalment on “how I fucked up another job interview and why I’m still on the dole – and my tax payer funded phD isn’t worth shit”. Nice work (pardon the pun)

        Reply
        • 22 November 2014 at 11:24 pm
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          There’s no point talking with you. You misrepresent what I have said and make false statements about my behaviour. You can’t even get the facts of this situation right. I didn’t piss anyone off and I asked them a legitimate question when I met them, not before I met them. Do try to pay attention. I know it’s difficult for you plebs to maintain rational thought for any length of time but you should try harder.

          And of course I’m not on the dole. I’ve never said I am. I have far too many assets to qualify for the dole and have no need to rely on government support. My PhD is priceless.

          Reply
  • 22 November 2014 at 10:23 pm
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    I like Nick, he has hit the nail on the head and you know it. Plus he’s really agitated you.
    For someone who takes privacy so seriously I’m surprised you would post a photo of the street below from your balcony advertising where you live as you did a few years back on the post about the fire up the street.

    Reply
    • 22 November 2014 at 11:28 pm
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      A pointless and pathetic diversion. A view of a street is not my identity. If I was agitated I would not publish your trivial comments. Do I look bovvered?

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  • 7 December 2014 at 5:52 pm
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    I always know that when I hear “…as someone who has hired over…” [insert number of employees here] that I am going to hear the standard diatribe one would expect from a pompous self serving, ideologically driven neoliberal twat who expects nothing less than uncritical subservience.

    Reply
    • 20 December 2014 at 10:05 pm
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      Not really. I have an enviable commercial and professional track record built over 25 years. That success is reliant on one thing – having the right people. I’ve picked good and bad, for the right and wrong reasons. Now I get it right 90% of the time. I expect based on your comments that you too blame someone else for your lack of success. I expect if you have an employment history that it resembles a Contiki tour half arsed organisations run by morons who one wonders how they even hold down a job, let alone think they run a business. Good luck to you, sounds like your going to need it.

      Reply

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