Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The obligation to BCC

Today I got a job-related rejection letter, delivered enmass to 151 candidates. I know it was 151 because the sender hit CC rather than BCC, so all of the recipients know. Furthermore, all of the recipients know who else was competing for the job, can look at their department profiles, and likely their CVs. For private individuals, academics tend to have a lot of Web presence, largely due to university/department websites. To a large extent, that's a good thing, but when combined with a leak like this one, that increased Web presence costs a good bit more privacy. Now, there are 151 candidates who get to take a peek at their competition, maybe stalk them on "the Facebook," maybe judge themselves and each other more harshly for it. At the same time, it is not unusual for departments to announce their new hires, so everyone also knows who got the job, enabling further judgement/comparison/stalking.

Situations like this really highlight how many informational traces we can leave while conducting what we could reasonably think of as our own business (and no one else's). One might think that respecting that sense of privacy would be a kind of professional ethic. Certainly, the system of recommendation letters, transcript deliveries, and application dossiers mean that there are a lot of individuals who may be clued in to the fact that a person is looking for a job. Yet, when it's not our business, we don't fish for more, put the clues together, and seek out further information. To so is considered a little creepy, right?

In general, being on the academic job market provides a window into a variety of university cultures and group norms. Unfortunately, one often learns a great deal about an institution's relationship to technology (or lack thereof). There is something about having your login credentials emailed to you in plaintext that just makes you feel...less than safe, especially considering the kinds of information provided to potential employers. Nevertheless, it's not neglect. I'm sure the folks "responsible" are really not aware of it as a problem.