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"It's the biggest privacy breach in our time, and it’s legal"
January 31, 2013 12:09 PM   Subscribe

Your employer may share your salary, and Equifax might sell that data. "The Equifax credit reporting agency, with the aid of thousands of human resource departments around the country, has assembled what may be the most powerful and thorough private database of Americans’ personal information ever created, containing 190 million employment and salary records covering more than one-third of U.S. adults. Some of the information in the little-known database, created through an Equifax-owned company called The Work Number, is sold to debt collectors, financial service companies and other entities."
posted by coupdefoudre (39 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
12 million salary records are public records, as those would be for government employees. Another 14 million would be for government contractors and you can calculate those using public records, so that covers about 20% of the workforce. Who are the other 10% I wonder?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:20 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hah, jokes on them. I'm a state employee, my salary information is available for free!
posted by oddman at 12:20 PM on January 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


So I wonder how long it will take before your credit card becomes invalid the day you're laid off?

Not good, this.
posted by Mooski at 12:22 PM on January 31, 2013 [9 favorites]


This idea that you shouldn't talk or ask about salaries, that they're private information on par with nude photos, just hurts workers and benefits employers. How are you supposed to negotiate for a fair salary if you don't know what other people are being paid?
posted by Pyry at 12:24 PM on January 31, 2013 [31 favorites]


How are you supposed to negotiate for a fair salary if you don't know what other people are being paid?

On the converse, prospective employers can now easily find out your salary history without your explicit consent(*), thus making their position even stronger when you ask for a certain salary.

*: Equifax might say that you have to give consent, but the boilerplate documents you sign when applying for a job often use legalese to relinquish rights you may not know about or understand. I found this out when applying for a developer position in aerospace, and I received a copy of my background check in the mail a month later that covered my past in significant detail.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:28 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


If this data were scrubbed and released with demographic information coded (age, gender, race, etc) it would bring the revolution.
posted by twjordan at 12:29 PM on January 31, 2013 [17 favorites]


This idea that you shouldn't talk or ask about salaries, that they're private information on par with nude photos, just hurts workers and benefits employers.

It strikes me that if the American Left (Occupy, etc.) wanted to actually do something significant that was within their power, they'd orchestrate a public "Share Your Salary Information" movement that attacks this particular cultural norm. Talk about an unproductive piece of tradition!
posted by furiousthought at 12:36 PM on January 31, 2013 [8 favorites]


Meanwhile, it's still legal to fire people for discussing their own salaries with co-workers.
posted by Jon_Evil at 12:38 PM on January 31, 2013 [6 favorites]


Pyry: How are you supposed to negotiate for a fair salary if you don't know what other people are being paid?

Negotiation is a moot point when you have masses of unemployed who will take the job in a heartbeat, no questions asked. Unless you're an indispensable rockstar, it's take-it-or-leave-it.
posted by dr_dank at 12:41 PM on January 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


Hang on...doesn't Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act allow for workers to discuss salaries with each other? I'm confused.
posted by drinkcoffee at 12:41 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


"So I wonder how long it will take before your credit card becomes invalid the day you're laid off?"

Romney's an innovator again.
posted by klangklangston at 12:42 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, as an officer of a nonprofit organization, I'm pretty sure our 990 shows my shoe size and what I had for lunch today.
posted by elizardbits at 12:43 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is why I work for myself. Only I know that I made seven dollars and a shiny red button last month.

Oops.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:50 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


This idea that you shouldn't talk or ask about salaries, that they're private information on par with nude photos, just hurts workers and benefits employers.

And those employers will throw an absolute shitfit if those workers start telling each other what they're paid. Another benefit of unions.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:51 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is the part I found particularly interesting:
But Kathy Sandy of Sommerville, N.J. was surprised to find that a debt collector had accessed information from her report two years ago, something she learned only when she obtained her "consumer disclosure" from The Work Number. Because the data is considered a credit report, consumers are entitled to one free report every year. The report shows what data the report contains, and what entities have seen it.

Sandy's Work Number report, which she shared with NBC News, is 22 pages long -- an amazingly detailed history of every paycheck she had received for years. The first page of the report lists "verifiers who have requested your data in the past 24 months." On the list is "Pressler and Pressler," a law firm that specializes in debt collection. The firm had sued her in small claims court over a credit card debt that she says she was already repaying.

"I found out debt collectors can access this information, which is strange," Sandy said. "I assumed with The Work Number, for that information, you had to have a (passcode) … but they got in, and got it somehow without my consent."
She assumed correctly, at least according to The Work Number website: "Can just anyone get my income information from The Work Number?" Answer: "No. You have to give someone authorization to get your income information from the service."
posted by coupdefoudre at 12:56 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Answer: "No. You have to give someone authorization to get your income information from the service."

You ever notice that little line buried in damned near every contract or agreement you sign that says something like "I authorize company-x and their associates and partners..."? That "and their associates" part casts a big, damned net.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:15 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


At my former job an e-mail of everybody's salaries and wages was accidentally sent out company wide. The results were not pleasant.
posted by MaritaCov at 1:22 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Jon_Evil, it's actually not legal to retaliate against a worker for discussing the terms and conditions of his or her employment, including salaries. See National Labor Relations Act, Section 7. Not saying that companies abide by that little-understood provision.
posted by learnsome at 1:26 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


My few terrible attempts at temping I remember the contracts were pretty clear that I was not to discuss my pay. I assume this was mostly so that nobody found out just how much the temp agency was skimming off between what the client was paying and how much I got paid.
posted by ckape at 1:41 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of surprised how surprised people are by this. I did a consulting engagement that involved TWN's systems, and their client list is substantial. I really don't know how much I can say (because I'm not sure what is public vs. what is covered by NDA), but the idea that this is somehow an NBC "exclusive" is laughable. Many, many of my large clients knew about The Work Number and their service offerings years ago.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 2:03 PM on January 31, 2013


I'm kind of surprised how surprised people are by this.

Other countries actually have laws to prevent this kind of abuse of privacy. Crazy, I know!
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:05 PM on January 31, 2013 [6 favorites]


My first thought was, "this would be a nice data set for analyzing the pay differential between women and men at various companies."
posted by occidental at 2:06 PM on January 31, 2013 [6 favorites]


The one time I shared info about my wages with a coworker I was shocked to discover that they were getting a lot less for the same work, under a different boss. So we went and complained about it, and the result was that I ended up getting paid the lower amount so that we were equal. Never again have I talked about my pay with coworkers.
posted by Joe Chip at 2:17 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I work for a (religious) non-profit and we just had a meeting on our new Policies and Procedures Handbook and we were very specifically told that we were never ever to discuss our wages with other employees and that doing so could result in a swift firing. And this was in a church 32 miles from my work home base at a bible study meeting I HAVE to attend and get to in my own vehicle while paying for my own gas! (Sorry, side rant. I want to punch my job today.)

I'm assuming my employer gets away with that because basically any religious non-profit is governed by like, not a single law, right?

At any rate, back to the topic at hand: 1. The Work Number site is incredibly obnoxious to navigate when trying to fetch a copy of whatever they might have on me. Blargh. And 2. That jezebel article from Jon_Evil was horribly depressing. Son of a...
posted by youandiandaflame at 3:07 PM on January 31, 2013


When I was 16 I got a job working at Old Country Buffet. I was hired in at $6.00 an hour. I was a mediocre employee, but at least I wasn't fired. I found out a few months in that the team leaders, who had worked there for several years, were earning $5.70.
posted by rebent at 3:12 PM on January 31, 2013


I just found out what it would take to get a copy of my report out of them. They want my SSN, plus photocopies of a picture ID and recent utility bill.

Seriously, someone needs to figure out a way for me to identify myself to data brokers like this without me mailing all the information someone needs to steal my identity (and the government needs to force these guys to use it, or just ban them completely).
posted by cosmic.osmo at 3:25 PM on January 31, 2013


Seriously, someone needs to figure out a way for me to identify myself to data brokers like this without me mailing all the information someone needs to steal my identity (and the government needs to force these guys to use it, or just ban them completely).

Sorry to say, but they already have all the information they need to steal your identity.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:31 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


we were very specifically told that we were never ever to discuss our wages with other employees and that doing so could result in a swift firing.

One summer I was hired on at a video store and was told this exact thing. So of course the first thing everyone did after the meeting was discuss wages. It turns out my starting hourly wage was 1/3 higher than my supervisor's. Whoops.
posted by ODiV at 4:28 PM on January 31, 2013


I make $23.78/hour. There you go.
posted by briank at 4:34 PM on January 31, 2013


We have this crazy little thing called award wages and The Fair Work Ombudsman where anyone can find out the wages, bonuses and entitlements of any job in the award system in Australia.
posted by Kerasia at 6:26 PM on January 31, 2013


So I wonder how long it will take before your credit card becomes invalid the day you're laid off?
That's what happens in Dubai. Except instead of bad credit if you can't make your credit card payments, you get thrown in jail. One of the reasons expats tend to flee and leave their cars behind...
On the converse, prospective employers can now easily find out your salary history without your explicit consent(*), thus making their position even stronger when you ask for a certain salary.
I don't really see why that would be the case. If you're at the point where you're negotiating over a salary then you're already in a pretty good spot. If you're currently employed it's reasonable to ask for more for the hassle of moving. If you're not employed they'll know your current salary is zero. I guess the only thing is that they'll know what you're used too and have an idea about how much money you need.
posted by delmoi at 7:01 PM on January 31, 2013


I guess the only thing is that they'll know what you're used too and have an idea about how much money you need.

Which unreasonably advantages them in a salary negotiation.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:09 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is why working on campaigns is valuable. All pay is disclosed on at least a quarterly basis due to financial disclosure laws. If you aren't smart enough to check that out, then too bad for you.
posted by fyrebelley at 10:33 PM on January 31, 2013


We have this crazy little thing called award wages and The Fair Work Ombudsman where anyone can find out the wages, bonuses and entitlements of any job in the award system in Australia.
Everybody in the office I work gets paid considerably more than the award. Award rates only tell you the minimum.
posted by bystander at 12:05 AM on February 1, 2013


I guess the only thing is that they'll know what you're used too and have an idea about how much money you need.

Salary history is very valuable information in a negotiation. Your current salary or past salary history is a signal in the negotiations and hiring process. Hiring and salary negotiations / wage bargaining are all negotiations that feature imperfect information and information asymmetry. The company doesn't know how much you're worth, and you don't know how much they're willing to pay. But the asymmetry is usually on the applicant's side, because they are assumed to know their skill level and also the average market wage.

Education is an example of a signal to the market that you have the ability to learn, perform well, etc.

But your past salary itself is also a valuable signal of information. For example, many companies will assume that if you have a high wage at a young age, or unexpected early promotions, it's reflective of your skill. You can start getting preferential attachment and rich-get-richer effects. It essentially snowballs. It's not fair, but it's a reality of cognitive biases and individual incentives.

If you're at the point where you're negotiating over a salary then you're already in a pretty good spot

True, but you could be in a better spot. There have been a spate of articles recently about the current generation of graduates, and how their initial low salaries will have big impact on their life-time earnings. Stuff like this hurts workers even more.
posted by formless at 1:51 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Other countries actually have laws to prevent this kind of abuse of privacy. Crazy, I know!

Yeah other countries have great ways of protecting people's privacy.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:23 AM on February 1, 2013


I assume this was mostly so that nobody found out just how much the temp agency was skimming off between what the client was paying and how much I got paid.

Yes, that's the reason. I once learned from a sympathetic former boss just how much the temp agency I was considering working for billed for my kind of work. It was $75 an hour, more than double what they were going to pay me. I explained to their hiring rep that I knew what they were billing, and that they'd have to give me more of it. This generated a call from her boss, who demanded to know who had spilled the beans. He was really angry. When I wouldn't name my source, he calmed down and grudgingly agreed to pay me more.

This keeping of payrolls secret amounts to a huge conspiracy, and its effect always favors employers.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:36 AM on February 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I knew what my temp agency charged for my services, because it was my temporary job was accounts payable. Paying the bills can be fun.
posted by Goofyy at 5:45 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


CISPA Is Back (previously)
posted by jeffburdges at 2:29 AM on February 22, 2013


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