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Watching on the Net
18 January 2011

Author: Alexei Duel
This is the most trivial case. You have come to get a job, fill out an application form and participate in an interview. What else might an employer need? These procedures are enough to find out the competence of a prospective employee and learn about his previous records. But… But HR officers increasingly tend to gather information about would-be staff from the so-called independent sources. That is, from the Internet. It turns out that the depths of the World Wide Web may harbor the most surprising facts – those you can’t even imagine.
This is the second decade of the twenty-first century…

However, one should be a professional to fish out the needed information from the Web. Not everyone is aware of the search techniques. Therefore, HR managers (and also special services) increasingly turn to virtual investigation professionals for clandestine assistance. Roman Romachev is one of such professionals. He modestly calls his trade the "business intelligence". His key customers are large companies who need to know the ins and outs of their contractors or employees - both current and would-be ones.

Basically, the information I gather is on the Net and theoretically it is available to anyone, says Romachev. But I know what, where and how to search.

The owner of the secret knowledge is a tall guy of muscle just over thirty. He’s a retired FSB officer. He quit the special service when he realized there were no development prospects. He went into business and seems to earn enough to drive a Hummer and rent an office in a prestigious business center. Roman decided to talk to Komsomolskaya Pravda after he (at the request of old friends) found several guys on the Web who had been wanted by the police for many years. At first, the officials were happy about this cooperation. But then all the contacts abruptly broke off. The top officials of the law enforcement agency decided: "The State investigation doesn’t need private detectives!"

We have even fewer rights than reporters, says Romachev. The Law on Operational and Investigation Activities leaves very little room for maneuver. So, let people know who we are, why they need us, what for and how we operate.

The operational procedure of business of intelligence is as follows. After they get an order, they first of all get immersed in social networks. Typically, they find the form of the needed person, and a list of his friends. Then analysis begins. If the applicant of a major corporation claims that he graduated from Moscow State University but nobody of his virtual friends ever studies there, this is a reason to doubt his information.

Social networks are the most obvious and most accessible way to find out everything about a person. A couple of years ago, the military draft offices caught dozens of military service evaders through network. Girls found the guys in the network, began to flirt with them, invited to a date. They guys responded and came to see the girls but actually found there draft officers with summon forms.

Based on, Romachev found businessmen wanted by Kazakhstan – the businessmen owed the tax administration large amounts of money.

Yet for me, social networks and dating websites are only a way of collecting primary data, says Romachev. In this stage, my staff and I try to find out whether this person actually exists, how he looks like, whom he communicates with. We read his application form and if it is incomplete we try to understand what kind of information the person is trying to conceal and why.
Roman Romachev: "Business intelligence can help you learn everything about your partners and competitors".

The actual virtual search begins next. It turns out that information about a person could be posted on the Web in the public domain without his knowledge.

Websites of many governmental agencies have blacklists of people wanted by officials by some or other reasons, says Romachev. This is not classified information. Often it can be found on the Internet. Officials believe that outsiders will not get to these files because regular search engines do not see them.

It is almost impossible to get to these semi-classified documents without knowing the secret paths. In RuNet, there are dozens of thousands of such databases. They are scattered across hundreds of servers of federal and regional authorities. To get access to the information in all these files, Romachev’s employees created a special non-classified and absolutely free-of-charge search engine WebInsight. Now the engine is searching through 25,000 camouflaged documents from the "invisible Web". The list of available pages is constantly growing.

A person can be checked via the databases of the Federal Tax Service, the court marshal service, the Pension Fund, the arbitral tribunal, the Labor Inspectorate, Ministry of Emergency Situations, Ministry of Internal Affairs, FSB, as well as law enforcement, regulatory and supervisory bodies of the CIS countries, says Romachev. If there is an unpaid fine for speeding, this fact won’t spoil the reputation. But if the summary states that the person was employed by a well-known company during a certain period time, and his deductions to the Pension Fund for the same period are only five cents, there is reason to believe the applicant might lie.

Once, an owner of a small but respectable company turned to Romachev for help. He was looking for a manager and there was an applicant: a young, handsome guy graduated from a prestigious university and with an excellent CV. He seemed to fit the position in all respects, but the owner had doubts. They checked the guy. It turned out that this ‘successful businessman’ seeking a job was registered in the apartment along with hundreds of guest workers and half of the companies listed in his CV were registered on assumed names.
Yet this is not the end of the business intelligence. When all information available on the Internet is collected and analyzed, Romachev’s employees consult with the customer: whether this information is enough or whether he needs more information. If data is insufficient, the investigation goes on off-line.

We receive the most reliable information only from people, says Romachev. Information from the Internet helps us find the right story-teller, say, a close friend of the person our customer is interested in. Then we find a way to meet with him. We design our conversation to learn about the concerned person everything we need.

Q. An interrogation?
Never! After the talk, the guy shouldn’t even suspect that he was deliberately asked about a close friend or a co-worker.
Once we had customers and they wanted to make a birthday present for the person they needed. The idea was to win his favor. We looked for the information on the Internet – there was nothing about him, just some business information. Some people upload photo albums in social networks: a soccer fan or kayaker - it is clear what to give as a birthday gift. But this person has no such information – terra incognita. So we decided to use a trick: we called his secretary, said: "We want to give him a bouquet as a birthday gift, where each flower would reflect one of the features of his personality. Tell us please, what kind of personality he has. And the secretary plainly says: "Oh, do not give him a bunch. Give him a bonsai instead. He likes bonsais very much". We reported this information to our customers and they presented a bonsai. Soon, their company won a big contract.

Q. And what about privacy? Is it legal to gather information about people? Does business intelligence violate the privacy boundaries?

If you are using only open sources of information, this activity is lawful, says Shota Gorgadze, a lawyer. The prohibited types of activities include the use of classified or restricted-access documents, making corrupt schemes of obtaining confidential information, and the use of special equipment.

Romachev knows this, so talking about his work he periodically makes reservations: I can’t tell you how we obtained this list.

So, basically business intelligence is a lawful activity but it’s not so obvious with certain nuances 
Volvo fired its employees because of Facebook

Three Volvo employees lost their jobs because of their revelations in Facebook. The Volvo automobile plant in Sweden fired these employees after they had posted critical comments on the employer in the social network.

According to Ice News, the reason for dismissal was the phrase posted by one of the ex-employees in Facebook: "Another day in the madhouse". Two colleagues supported him in their comments. Sweden's human rights activists say these dismissals were illegal because the labor contracts had no provisions governing the use of Facebook or Twitter by the employees. The Volvo spokesman replied that "employees must at least think sensibly and respect the norms of behavior accepted in the company."


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