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May 13, 2019Read More
‘Tis the season, they say, especially around Thanksgiving. Who’s saying this? The big retailers that put up Christmas decorations a couple of weeks in advance, hoping to lure shoppers to the door-buster events that define Black Friday. Congratulations to those of you who braved the annual pre-dawn dash through the mall. Yes, the 2015 holiday shopping season has officially arrived -- and that means it’s also the season for hackers. Few Americans can forget the panic of 2013’s Black Friday, and not just because of the frantic rush to grab the hottest products off the shelves at “ridiculously” low prices. That was also the year over 110 million shoppers discovered that their credit card information had been stolen after hackers targeted a variety of retailers -- Target, chief among them.
In the weeks following the breach, Target revealed that the personal information of close to 70 million customers had been compromised, including names, addresses, phone numbers and email accounts. Yet, few other sellers were immune. Hackers also infiltrated the payment systems of Home Depot, Albertson’s, Michaels, Neiman Marcus, P.F. Chang’s, SuperValu, Adobe and others. In fact, by the conclusion of 2014, researchers at the Ponemon Institute estimated that 110 million Americans -- about the half the adult population of the country -- had fallen prey to cyber criminals who exploited allegedly secure systems to expose their victims’ financial, transactional and personal details.
For those of us in the employment industry -- who often process a ton of private data for our clients and personnel using VMS, ATS or other cloud-based HR software -- now’s probably a good time to have the data ethics talk.
Every organization has become a technology company
According to studies by investment advisers Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers (KPCB), 86 percent of U.S. jobs today involve performing services rather than manufacturing goods. Another topical study conducted by Indeed showed that six out of 10 tech-related jobs now span occupational categories such as sales, finance, management and operations. “Every company has become a tech company,” Indeed noted.
Our business cultures are becoming more digital every day, across industries and companies. The modern iteration of the contingent workforce industry arose from the technological advances of ATS and VMS systems, which gave rise to MSPs, social recruiting, online human intermediation platforms, freelancer management systems, and the now ubiquitous reliance on Big Data to drive hiring decisions and performance. These trends aren’t just going to continue, they’re going to grow.
Before we succumb to explosive growth, and possibly explode because we’re not prepared for it, we should remain mindful of the lessons other companies have taught us since 2013. It’s not just about data security, either. It’s also about data integrity and ethical use.
Sure, the Ashley Madison data violation made headlines a short time ago, probably because of the scandalous and sensational nature of the site’s customers, but we’re also witnessing the manipulation of data by businesses -- and the fallout. Consider Volkswagen, which was recently busted for gaming emissions systems in its vehicles. Or General Motors hiding information about faulty ignition switches, which resulted in hundreds of fatalities. Or Whole Foods altering product data, such as weight, to increase prices.
Even in our industry, we’ve seen cases go to court where staffing providers have been accused of falsifying I-9 records, attempting to manipulate the E-Verify system, misrepresenting claims and more.
Data problems are not technology problems
When data violations occur, the problems are almost always human in nature. They can be unwitting mistakes, such as substandard, poorly implemented or outdated security protocols. In rarer cases, they can be intentional. Regardless of the cause or the figurehead who must shoulder the blame as the fall guy, there exists an entire network of people who contributed (knowingly or not) to the issue: executives, software developers, engineers, data analysts, product managers, data storage and processing specialists, and other people responsible for the code and algorithms that facilitated the violation. The good news is that because it’s a human problem, there’s a human solution.
Talking and teaching data ethics to our technology teams
As Kaiser Fung points out in a recent Harvard Business Review article on the subject: “The cause of the problem is more human than technical. For example, credit card data do not show up uninvited to an enterprise data warehouse. After the data are stored, software is written to establish the link between a user’s pseudonym and his or her name and address. The technical staff is involved both in designing the linkage algorithms and developing the code for implementation. Development resources are secured based on a technical or business rationale.”
Fung, who leads the MS programs in Applied Analytics at Columbia University, observes that other business needs often take precedence over data ethics in the decision making process: “Managers debate topics such as product innovation, user experience, resource requirements, competitive strategies, and return on investment.” Educating tech teams on the ethical standards of processing that data, however, seldom takes place.
Steps to ensuring ethical data usage standards
Our clients and our talent have placed their trust in our abilities to keep their information secure, accurate and free from misuse. Here are some simple ways to ensure that your teams excel.
Develop or refine your onboarding processes to include training that covers the ethics of data use and handling. Bring in internal or external legal experts to coach team members on the legal obligations and best practices for data processing, storage, analysis and distribution.
Ensure that all applicable contracts or agreements contain solid terms and conditions for data standards, and that related stakeholders are knowledgeable of them.
Work to promote a business culture for tech teams that encourages open, supportive communications; team members need to be comfortable discussing or identifying topics related to data ethics, and managers must be willing to engage in those dialogs by creating a safe, repercussion-free environment.
No two companies will necessarily have the same standards, yet establishing and enforcing ethics standards is critical. They must be transparent, agreed upon, communicated and monitored. To deliver the superior service users expect, it falls on us to make sure that our ethical data standards reflect the values and promises we champion in our products -- and that those standards apply to every individual who relies on our platforms: hiring managers, MSPs, staffing providers, recruiters, executives and workers.