It’s one thing when a company reveals employee salary information to other employees, in the spirit of being open and honest. (Which is a thing now.)
It’s quite another beast, though, when your employer gives your salary information away behind your back.
NBC News reported on Wednesday that Equifax has amassed what might be the largest private database of personal information ever created in America. It has 190 million employment and salary records, covering one-third of U.S. adults are in it. And it’s growing by 12 million records annually.
What’s worse, this database isn’t assembled because you opted into it, or gave your credit card information to a company or filled out a form. The information is being collected with the cooperation of large human resource departments across the country, who in some instances let Equifax tap directly into their data.
The database is called The Work Number, and collects such detailed information as week-by-week paystub information dating back years, health care providers and unemployment claims.
Your Information Is Private, Except When It’s Not
The reason why employers are so happy to give away your information is because The Work Number is sold to them as an easy way to handle background check requests from other employers. By paying The Work Number, they can automate the process by uploading employee information directly into the database.
But here’s the alarming part: Equifax then turns around and sells that information to debt collectors and other financial service companies.
This is despite reassuring messaging from both The Work Number website and employers who use the service, saying your information is private, and that you have to authorize any access by a third party. Except when, you know, there’s a “permissible purpose,” like giving debt collection companies your salary information, or warning financial services companies if you lose your job that you might be a deadbeat customer.
Are You At Risk?
According to the NBC report, many Fortune 500 companies, as well as schools and universities, use the service. Given that it’s a paid service that requires a database of data to hand over from the HR department, you’re most likely to have your information in The Work Number if work for a large company.
If this worries you, do contact your HR department and ask them about this service, whether they use it, and if they know how the information they upload is being used.
Then get your whack-a-mole mallet ready for the next privacy breach.