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Seminar:  An Experiment In Hiring Discrimination Via Online Social Networks

Date:April 15, 2013 
Talk Title:An Experiment In Hiring Discrimination Via Online Social Networks
Speaker:Alessandro Acquisti
Time & Location:12:00pm - 1:00pm
CIC Building, Pittsburgh


Anecdotal evidence and self-report surveys suggest that U.S. firms are using Web 2.0 and social networking sites to seek information about prospective hires. However, little is known about how the information they find online actually influences their hiring decisions. We present two controlled experiments of the impact that information posted on a popular social networking site by job applicants can have on employers' hiring behavior. In two studies (a survey experiment and a field experiment) we measure the ratio of callbacks that different job applicants receive as function of their personal traits. The experiments (a survey experiment and a field experiment) focus on sensitive traits that are either unlawful or risky for U.S. employers to enquire about during interviews, but which can be inferred from applicants' online presences. In this manuscript, we present the experimental design common to both experiments, and initial results from both experiments.

Speaker Bio

Alessandro Acquisti is a Professor of Information Technology and Public Policy at the Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), the director of the Peex (Privacy Economics Experiments) lab at CMU, and the co-director of Carnegie Mellon’s CBDR (Center for Behavioral and Decision Research). Alessandro investigates the economics of privacy. His studies have spearheaded the investigation of privacy and disclosure behavior in online social networks, and the application of behavioral economics to the study of privacy and information security decision making.

Alessandro has been the recipient of the PET Award for Outstanding Research in Privacy Enhancing Technologies, the IBM Best Academic Privacy Faculty Award, the Heinz College School of Information's Teaching Excellence Award, and numerous Best Paper awards. His studies have been published in journals, books, and proceedings across a variety of fields, including Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Management Science, Journal of Economic Literature, Marketing Science, Journal of Consumer Research, ACM Transactions, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and Journal of Experimental Psychology. Alessandro has testified before the U.S. Senate and House committees on issues related to privacy policy and consumer behavior, and has been frequently invited to consult on privacy policy issues by various government bodies, including the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Council of Economic Advisers, the Federal Trade Commission, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and the European Commission. Alessandro’s findings have been featured in national and international media outlets, including the Economist, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Financial Times,, NPR, CNN, and 60 Minutes; his TED talks on privacy and human behavior have been viewed over a million times online. His 2009 study on the predictability of Social Security numbers was featured in the “Year in Ideas” issue of the NYT Magazine (the SSNs assignment scheme was changed by the US Social Security Administration in 2011).

Alessandro holds a PhD from UC Berkeley, and Master degrees from UC Berkeley, the London School of Economics, and Trinity College Dublin. He has held visiting positions at the Universities of Rome, Paris, and Freiburg (visiting professor); Harvard University (visiting scholar); University of Chicago (visiting fellow); Microsoft Research (visiting researcher); and Google (visiting scientist). He has been a member of the National Academies' Committee on public response to alerts and warnings using social media.

Acquisti's professional home page can be accessed at: