Method of data mining in social networks was widely discussed in LinkedIn Group “ProP.I.” in March 2010. Most questions were about pretexting in social networks and ability to use the data collected in the court. I paid attention, that there are many approaches to problem solving, depending on regional traditions and regulations where PI operates.
That’s why I think it is reasonable to say a few words about the way data collected in social networks can be used in background screening in Russia.
First of all lets’ divide the law and the ethics. According to the law one can use any data collected in public accounts unless he is trying to use this data against the owner of the account. Most PIs I know are working on the edge of the law and it is reasonable to take for granted that reliable expert will find the way to get information he needs in compliance with local regulations.
Taking into consideration the above statement, pretexting in social networks is the matter of ethic, not the law.
There are 2 different situations:
- PI uses unknown for the subject name and personality asking him “add me as a friend”. Pretty girl in bikini or sales person with “unique opportunity” are good examples of these fake pages. If the subject accepts this offer I see no reason to speak about unethical behavior or offense against the law. The subject made his own decision and thinks that the data on his page can be given to the stranger.
- PI uses fake page of the subject‘s classmate or relative. Even if this way gives PI the data he needs I think that it is unethical. This practice must be stopped and may be even prosecuted by professional community.
In my practice I met several “subject’s fake accounts” where competitors or detractors of the subject publish compromising materials.
How can we use social networks’ pages as a valid data if we are not even sure that this page actually belongs to the subject of the investigation? – There’s no other way except validating this data through other informational sources or during investigation.
Social networks can give us only preliminary information, nothing else.