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Court requires Glassdoor reveal identities of anonymous users

(BUSINESS NEWS) Glassdoor is being forced to identify anonymous reviewers in ongoing grand jury case and their fight may already be over.

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The U.S. Court of Appeals has recently denied Glassdoor Inc’s motion to quash a grand jury subpoena requiring the company to reveal identifying information about anonymous users who wrote reviews about a separate company.

Although reviews are anonymous, users on Glassdoor must provide an email address, which does not appear on the site. Before the company posts a review, the author is notified that while rare, their information may be disclosed if required by law. However, Glassdoor’s Privacy Policy also notes that the company will “take appropriate action to protect the anonymity” of users.

Glassdoor argued that complying with the subpoena would violate anonymous speech rights and violate privacy. The Court of Appeals was like, yeah whatevs, this is about a federal case so give up those names.

The subpoena is in relation to an ongoing investigation by an Arizona Federal Grand Jury. Allegedly, a government contractor that administers two Department of Veteran’s Affairs programs committed wire fraud and misused government funds. As of March 2017, 125 reviews have been posted on Glassdoor by current and former employees of the contractor.

On March 6, 2017, Glassdoor was served with a subpoena ordering the company to provide identifying information about the reviewers, including emails, IP addresses, and billing information.

Glassdoor argued this request violated their user’s First Amendment rights, and the government agreed to limit the scope of its request to eight crucial reviews.

The government noted this information would aid the investigation, enabling them to contact the reviewers as third party witnesses to business practices related to the case. However, Glassdoor was still not cool with this, and filed a motion to suppress the subpoena.

The district court denied the motion, upholding their stance that since the investigation was not being conducted in bad faith, the company must respond under pain of contempt. Basically, Glassdoor is going to get charged $5000 a day until they comply.

Most of the argument stems from Supreme Court Case Branzburg v. Hayes, which stipulates that reporters generally cannot refuse to testify in a criminal grand jury. Branzburg v. Hayes combined three separate cases regarding journalists reporting illicit activity, but protecting their sources from identification.

Glassdoor argues since they are not a news organization, this case should not apply to their users. The court shot back that although Glassdoor isn’t technically in the news business, just like the reporters in Branzburg, the company publishes information from sources it agrees not to identify.

While Glassdoor’s commitment to protecting its users is noble, since review posters are notified before each posting their info may be shared, Glassdoor may not have the same grounds of arguing promised anonymity as the reporters in the Branzburg case. Plus, since the investigation is in good faith, the government contends that the company has no reason for resistance.

Glassdoor insists the court instead focus on the results of Bursey v. United States, a case regarding the First Amendment rights of groups considered subversive by the government. Bursey requires government investigations to satisfy a three-part “compelling interest” test to proceed.

The Court of Appeals argues that since Glassdoor users aren’t really a special community group, the precedent set in Branzburg about investigations in good faith more accurately applies to the current case.

Since the government is not investigating Glassdoor itself, but rather attempting to further the grand jury case with information from users, Glassdoor’s motion to quash the subpoena was denied.

The eight users whose reviews were flagged will likely have to testify in the case, and Glassdoor cannot further refuse to identify the reviewers.

Lindsay is an editor for The American Genius with a Communication Studies degree and English minor from Southwestern University. Lindsay is interested in social interactions across and through various media, particularly television, and will gladly hyper-analyze cartoons and comics with anyone, cats included.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. DeeJayH

    November 15, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    “yeah whatever?” & “not cool with this?” until reading those I had no idea using GENIUS in your name was for comedic effect. #kudos. Can not believe that went right over my head

    • Lani Rosales

      November 15, 2017 at 3:05 pm

      From time to time, our writers slide in little jokes or silly notes – just making sure you’re all paying attention! 😉 #GoodEye

  2. Leslie

    December 22, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    The correct things to do for a website like Glassdoor is to not collect this information. Not having this information means the government cannot request it.
    A website like Startpage, for example, differentiates it from the Googles of this world in this manner.
    I do agree that the juvenile writing in this article makes me doubt whether the contents are serious.

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Business News

You should apply to be on a board – why and how

(BUSINESS NEWS) What do you need to think about and explore if you want to apply for a Board of Directors? Here’s a quick rundown of what, why, and when.

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board of directors

What?
What does a Board of Directors do? Investopedia explains “A board of directors (B of D) is an elected group of individuals that represent shareholders. The board is a governing body that typically meets at regular intervals to set policies for corporate management and oversight. Every public company must have a board of directors. Some private and nonprofit organizations also have a board of directors.”

Why?
It is time to have a diverse representation of thoughts, values and insights from intelligently minded people that can give you the intel you need to move forward – as they don’t have quite the same vested interests as you.

We have become the nation that works like a machine. Day in and day out we are consumed by our work (and have easy access to it with our smartphones). We do volunteer and participate in extra-curricular activities, but it’s possible that many of us have never understood or considered joining a Board of Directors. There’s a new wave of Gen Xers and Millennials that have plenty of years of life and work experience + insights that this might be the time to resurrect (or invigorate) interest.

Harvard Business Review shared a great article about identifying the FIVE key areas you would want to consider growing your knowledge if you want to join a board:

1. Financial – You need to be able to speak in numbers.
2. Strategic – You want to be able to speak to how to be strategic even if you know the numbers.
3. Relational – This is where communication is key – understanding what you want to share with others and what they are sharing with you. This is very different than being on the Operational side of things.
4. Role – You must be able to be clear and add value in your time allotted – and know where you especially add value from your skills, experiences and strengths.
5. Cultural – You must contribute the feeling that Executives can come forward to seek advice even if things aren’t going well and create that culture of collaboration.

As Charlotte Valeur, a Danish-born former investment banker who has chaired three international companies and now leads the UK’s Institute of Directors, says, “We need to help new participants from under-represented groups to develop the confidence of working on boards and to come to know that” – while boardroom capital does take effort to build – “this is not rocket science.

When?
NOW! The time is now for all of us to get involved in helping to create a brighter future for organizations and businesses that we care about (including if they are our own business – you may want to create a Board of Directors).

The Harvard Business Review gave great explanations of the need to diversify those that have been on the Boards to continue to strive to better represent our population as a whole. Are you ready to take on this challenge? We need you.

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Business News

Everyone should have an interview escape plan

(BUSINESS NEWS) A job interview should be a place to ask about qualifications but sometimes things can go south – here’s how to escape when they do.

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interview from hell

“So, why did you move from Utah to Austin?” the interviewer asked over the phone.

The question felt a little out of place in the job interview, but I gave my standard answer about wanting a fresh scene. I’d just graduated college and was looking to break into the Austin market. But the interviewer wasn’t done.

“But why Austin?” he insisted, “There can’t be that many Mormons here.”

My stomach curled. This was a job interview – I’d expected to discuss my qualifications for the position and express my interest in the company. Instead, I began to answer more and more invasive questions about my personal life and religion. The whole ordeal left me very uncomfortable, but because I was young and desperate, I put up with it. In fact, I even went back for a second interview!

At the time, I thought I had to put up with that sort of treatment. Only recently have I realized that the interview was extremely unprofessional and it wasn’t something I should have felt obligated to endure.

And I’m not the only one with a bad interview story. Slate ran an article sharing others’ terrible experiences, which ranged from having their purse inspected to being trapped in a 45 minute presentation! No doubt, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mistreatment by potential employers.

So, why do we put up with it?

Well, sometimes people just don’t know better. Maybe, like I was, they’re young or inexperienced. In these cases, these sorts of situations seem like they could just be the norm. There’s also the obvious power dynamic: you might need a job, but the potential employers probably don’t need you.

While there might be times you have to grit your teeth and bear it, it’s also worth remembering that a bad interview scenario often means bad working conditions later on down the line. After all, if your employers don’t respect you during the interview stage, it’s likely the disrespect will continue when you’re hired.

Once you’ve identified an interview is bad news, though, how do you walk out? Politely. As tempting as it is to make a scene, you probably don’t want to go burning bridges. Instead, excuse yourself by thanking your interviewers, wishing them well and asserting that you have realized the business wouldn’t be a good fit.

Your time, as well as your comfort, are important! If your gut is telling you something is wrong, it probably is. It isn’t easy, but if a job interview is crossing the line, you’re well within your rights to leave. Better to cut your losses early.

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Business News

Australia vs Facebook: A conflict of news distribution

(BUSINESS NEWS) Following a contentious battle for news aggregation, Australia works to find agreement with Facebook.

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News open on laptop, which Australia argues Facebook is taking away from.

Australia has been locked in a legal war against technology giants Google and Facebook with regard to how news content can be consumed by either entity’s platforms.

At its core, the law states that news content being posted on social media is – in effect – stealing away the ability for news outlets to monetize their delivery and aggregate systems. A news organization may see their content shared on Facebook, which means users no longer have to visit their site to access that information. This harms the ability for news production companies – especially smaller ones – from being able to maintain revenue and profit, while also giving power to corporations such as Facebook by allowing them to capitalize on their substantial infrastructure.

This is a complex subject that can be viewed from a number of angles, but it essentially asks the question of who should be in control of information on a potentially global scale, and how the ability to share such data should be handled when it passes through a variety of mediums and avenues. Put shortly: Australia thinks royalties should be paid to those who supply the news.

Australia has maintained that under the proposed laws, corporations must reach content distribution deals in order to allow news to be spread through – as one example – posts on Facebook. In retaliation, Facebook completely removed the ability for users to post news articles and stories. This in turn led to a proliferation of false and misleading information to fill the void, magnifying the considerable confusion that Australian citizens were confronted with once the change had been made.

“In just a few days, we saw the damage that taking news out can cause,” said Sree Sreenivasan, a professor at the Stony Brook School of Communication and Journalism. “Misinformation and disinformation, already a problem on the platform, rushed to fill the vacuum.”

Facebook’s stance is that it provides value to the publishers because shared news content will drive users to their sites, thereby allowing them to provide advertising and thus leading to revenue.

Australia has been working on this bill since last year, and has said that it is meant to equalize the potential imbalance of content and who can display and benefit from it. This is meant to try and create conditions between publishers and the large technology platforms so that there is a clearer understanding of how payment should be done in exchange for news and information.

Google was initially defiant (threatening to go as far as to shut off their service entirely), but began to make deals recently in order to restore its own access. Facebook has been the strongest holdout, and has shown that it can leverage its considerable audience and reach to force a more amenable deal. Australia has since provided some amendments to give Facebook time to seek similar deals obtained by Google.

One large portion of the law is that Australia is reserving the right to allow final arbitration, which it says would allow a mediator to set prices if no deal could be reached. This might be considered the strongest piece of the law, as it means that Facebook cannot freely exercise its considerable weight with impunity. Facebook’s position is that this allows government interference between private companies.

In the last week – with the new agreements on the table – it’s difficult to say who blinked first. There is also the question of how this might have a ripple effect through the tech industry and between governments who might try to follow suit.

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