What is Big Data and How Does it Affect Employee Background Screening?

The term “big data” refers to the tools and practice of accumulating and evaluating thousands of pieces of information on an individual, collected through the use of algorithms and data scraping. Attorney Lester Rosen of ESR reported in October of last year, 2016, that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) met to discuss how big data was being used by employers to make hiring decisions, the natural concern being the different avenues created by big data for discrimination to take place.

Advantages of Big Data

Big data helps employers because the rapid accumulation of information on a candidate speeds up the hiring process by giving hiring managers a more detailed picture early on of the candidate’s many qualifications, or lack of. In business, faster is always better as long as accuracy can be ensured. Many screening providers can promise such accuracy and speed during background checks, but the main issue remains compliance.

Disadvantages of Big Data

In a press release, EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang talked about big data’s “potential to drive innovations that reduce bias in employment decisions,” but with that potential comes the caveat that such innovations must be geared to “promote fairness and opportunity, so that reliance on these expanding sources of data does not create new barriers to opportunity.”

The Obama administration shared these concerns in a report titled Big Data: A Report on Algorithmic Systems, Opportunity, and Civil Rights, in which the assumption that big data is objective was challenged: “It is often assumed that big data techniques are unbiased because of the scale of the data and because the techniques are implemented through algorithmic systems. However, it is a mistake to assume they are objective simply because they are data-driven.”

Going Forward

The use of big data presents unique challenges for hiring managers to maintain compliance, which makes it all the more critical to partner with screening providers who know how to responsibly navigate its challenges. Contact VICTIG to learn more about our approach to big data and our commitment to FCRA and EEOC compliance.

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