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01-22-2019 ·

It’s Already on Your Permanent Record

“Do people want privacy?” asked Elon Musk while appearing on The Joe Rogan Experience last September. “Because they seem to put everything on the internet, practically.”

If you remember the concept of the “permanent record,” then you may recall being scared into not only curtailing questionable behavior but also agonizing over what might be on your record that could affect getting admitted to college or offered a job. If there ever was a truly permanent record, concern about what goes on it or even preventing access to it seems to have become passé. In the first case, when individuals are splashing their “moments,” updates, preferences and all manner of information in prose and video across social media, the privacy regulations become almost silly. And when we have data breaches on the scale of what has befallen Equifax and Marriott, does anyone think their data is safe?

Take the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, for example. Because of FERPA, we now have parents who can’t access their child’s college schedule, address, grades — even if the parent is footing the tuition — unless their son or daughter gives permission. That’s ironic given what most undergrads are willing to share on social media. And because most college students play so loose with their data and privacy, universities see an opportunity — thankfully benevolent.

Backed by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a study will soon kick off at the University of California at Irvine’s School of Education that draws higher education closer to the way corporations collect consumer data. The study, called the Next Generation Undergraduate Success Measurement Project, will, for example, comb data from learning management systems and disseminate and read responses to short surveys served to students’ mobile phones to gauge what’s helping students learn and prepare for the workforce.

Richard Arum, dean of UC Irvine’s School of Education, said in “The Chronicle of Higher Education” in November that, “Every other industry in the world right now has figured out a way to use data to better serve customers and clients … [higher ed is] a real laggard in using those techniques and tools to improve our own work.”

Arum is right. Until now, the primary data schools have used to gauge a student’s potential academic or workplace success has been an SAT or ACT score and transcript. If students are constantly documenting their day-to-day lives and creating a digital permanent record, then why not analyze it for a variety of purposes?

For instance, if an employer wants to know whether someone they’re considering as a new hire will be a good investment, they could conduct “candidate intelligence.” Accessing each person’s growing hill (or mountain, for some of us) of data can give insight into our predictors of success.

I recently participated in a roundtable at a major university where, among other things, we discussed college rankings. Among the participants was a representative from PwC who said, like U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges Rankings,” PwC pays a lot of attention to where an applicant graduates from. For PwC, looking at the success rate of previous candidates from a particular school translates into a not unreliable batting average for future applicants’ potential success at the global consultancy.

Not every company has the resources PwC can deploy for analyzing new hires. But with the abundance of data on hand, chief learning officers owe it to themselves to undertake candidate intelligence.

The best corporate recruiters are highly skilled in interviewing, but even the best can lack resources for collecting and analyzing a candidate’s burgeoning digital footprint. CLOs now have a longitudinal stream of moments from almost every candidate’s life going back to middle school. Parsing all this data, in an ethical way, seems to be as much about recruiting as it is investigation.

John DiGilio, vice president of research and intelligence for LAC Group, a provider of knowledge and information services such as competitive research, spend management and digital asset management, sees an opportunity for employers to gather candidate intelligence.

“Professional researchers have a practical knowledge of the ins and outs of investigation,” DiGilio said. “From the things the candidates say about themselves to what others are saying about him or her, a researcher goes beyond determining the veracity of what the individual claims.”

When I asked DiGilio, who’s also an attorney, whether there are legal boundaries corporations should be careful about when trawling Snapchat or Instagram to gather candidate intelligence, he said, “Social sites and apps tend to not have stringent requirements, but our legal system offers defamation protections to all; you want to make sure what you’re pulling is verifiable and factual.”

Like Musk, I believe privacy is gone. The upside to this development for CLOs is that there’s never been more data available to get a fuller picture of a candidate. So ethically take advantage of this, and do not pursue what’s always been done previously in the name of recruiting. The business world is now about predictive success for talent.

For higher education, the UC Irvine study is one that everyone in academia should keenly watch and determine how the results can inform better educational outcomes.

For the rest of us, especially young people in their teens and twenties, think about your online presence. Sixty years ago, psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham created the “Johari window” to help people know themselves and how they relate to others. I believe today Luft and Ingham would tell most of us that with regard to social media and technology, we’re living in a blind spot — a dangerous one.

Think about your blind spot. If you’ve moved beyond that place, then it’s time for you to mentor those around you.

Lee Maxey is CEO of MindMax, a marketing and enrollment management services company. To comment, email editor@clomedia.com.