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Glassdoor's new privacy policy stirs fear that anonymous posts may not stay anonymous

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

So talking openly about your pay inside the workplace can often be really awkward. But for years, the website Glassdoor has billed itself as a safe space for people to post candidly about things like salary, health benefits, toxic managers, all with the promise of remaining anonymous. But then a recent policy shift on the site now requires users to verify their identities, shaking the confidence some users had had in the promise of anonymity. Amanda Hoover is a staff writer at Wired, and she wrote about this in a recent piece called "Glassdoor Wants To Know Your Real Name." Welcome.

AMANDA HOOVER: Thanks so much for having me.

CHANG: So for people who aren't familiar yet, can you just describe what kind of platform Glassdoor is? Like, how does it work?

HOOVER: Yeah. Glassdoor does a few things now, but historically it was really known as a place where people could review their employers anonymously or maybe with a job title. And they could share their salaries, health benefits information and their experience there. What it is now is a much more robust place, where it has a social component, people can look for jobs and look at job listings on the site. So it does a few things at this point.

CHANG: But the fact that you could be anonymous was a huge draw formerly - right? - like, the idea that you could post with abandon without anyone knowing who you really are.

HOOVER: Yeah, I think that really encouraged a lot of candid conversations and made it a very different place from, you know, LinkedIn, which, you know, on LinkedIn, everyone in theory is who they say they are, working where they say they are and really presenting themselves with their face and their name and their title.

CHANG: Yeah.

HOOVER: Versus on Glassdoor, where these were anonymized reviews.

CHANG: And then, as we mentioned, Glassdoor put in place some new privacy policies which really concerned some users, right? What has changed, exactly?

HOOVER: Right. It used to just be that you could use the platform with an email address. But now to access all of the features, they're being asked to input their name and their employer and their job title. And they're saying all these things are required. And when some returning users who have older accounts are logging in, they're seeing messages about needing to add this information as well. It doesn't mean that reviews will be - have names attached to them. You know, all reviews are still anonymous, and people can still post in social channels pseudo-anonymously as well. But these requirements for information are to be linked to people's profiles, you know, at least on the back end, with their name.

CHANG: Right, and you found that some users are alleging their names and information appeared in their profiles, like, in their accounts, without them having entered that specific information themselves. Like, how did that happen?

HOOVER: Yeah, there are a few people, you know, that have said on social media or in blog posts that they've logged in recently and found their name there instead of, maybe, initials that they had put. It's not, like, fully clear how that may have happened. There's a lot in Glassdoor's policies that talk about, you know, using tools to try to verify people and their employment. But it has raised concerns for these users who are alleging that this happened to them. And some of them have said that they're trying to delete their accounts, as that might be the only way to remove this information from their profiles.

CHANG: Gee. So what was the thinking on Glassdoor's part? Like, what are they saying about why they changed the privacy policies that used to be so central to why people join this platform?

HOOVER: They didn't really tell me, you know, what goes into the thinking. Reading some help pages on their site, they talk about how, you know, being a verified network is important for these social interactions. You know, you don't want just trolls in these forums.

CHANG: Right.

HOOVER: They want this to be a place for useful information, and trying to verify profiles is definitely a way to sort of ensure that this information might be useful. But it does also come at a cost of how people's profiles are stored and the way that their contributions, you know, even if it's on the back end, link to their names.

CHANG: Amanda Hoover is a staff writer at Wired. Thank you so much.

HOOVER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDERSON .PAAK SONG, "COME DOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
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