Secura Insurance Companies is recruiting for a Social Media Claims Investigation Intern, whose basic responsibilities include:

  • Utilize various social sites including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and MySpace to gather information for potential claims cases.
  • Utilize other online avenues and Websites to obtain information on potential claimants.
  • Monitor any online activity pertaining to specific individuals.
  • Report suspicious online activity or information to claim representatives.

This helps illustrate two trends in social media: the use by third parties of social media to gather information about people, and the recruitment of the most junior possible personnel to perform social media responsibilities. (I won’t comment on the latter except to note that it seems asking a student to monitor people online ten hours a week for nothing — the Secura position is an internship — has the potential to lead to some interesting consequences.)

We’ve all read stories of people who learned that their employer, a credit reporting agency, a landlord or someone else had collected information about them using social media sources. Anyone who is surprised that this goes on has not been paying attention and only has himself or herself to blame if it happens to them. To repeat my favorite Marshall McLuhan quote on this topic: “Publication is self invasion of privacy.” In other words, if you don’t want the world to know about it, don’t post it on your Facebook page.

There have been many reports of law enforcement using social media as an investigative tool. In March of this year it was reported that the FBI was creating Facebook identities and then sending friend requests to people under investigation to gain access to their personal data and goings-on.

So far, rulings on whether these practices violate privacy have been mixed, but no doubt, these activities will continue. It is also inevitable that much of this will come to be accepted as legitimate use of social media. We live so much of our lives online that it would be difficult to expect the global village to be “off limits” for corporate and law enforcement use.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) are good sources of information on these topics and companies that wish to use social media in this way would be well advised to review the law and consumer reaction to these practices.