Hostile Debate About the Jigsaw Privacy Puzzle

Apr 1, 2008
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

As recruiters dive into the more than seven-million business cards available on, it’s obvious that Jigsaw can be valuable, but is it ethical? Who’s responsible for protecting people’s privacy — Jigsaw, or the recruiter who uses Jigsaw?

A hostile, rousing debate about ethics transpired during the ERE Expo San Diego, and the audience got a first-hand account of user-generated content as Jim Fowler, Jigsaw’s founder and CEO, and Susan Pierce, executive director of the non-profit organization PrivacyActivism, broke apart the privacy puzzle.

Dennis Smith, a recruiting leader known for his blog, served as referee, er, moderator, between the two polar opposite views on the privacy puzzle.

On being outed…

The seven-million business cards is causing disruptive change in the way corporate information is gathered because recruiters can buy and sell contact information on people — who may not have given permission to be contacted, says Pierce.

“I think you should respect people and respect their data. If you want to use the data in a database, ask for it. If I found out I was in Jigsaw and I couldn’t get out, there is nothing to prevent me from changing my data and making it incorrect. Wouldn’t you prefer a database that has 100% good information than a bunch of people who are annoyed and poison the data?” she says.

On opting out…

The lines on opting out of Jigsaw are really vague, says Pierce:

“It’s easy to tell where there is an email address [on a business card], but with a mobile phone, you have to discover that it’s a personal phone number and somehow remove that. If you’ve been added, you might not even know that Jigsaw exists and be able to remove that phone number to begin with. If you haven’t opted in, how can you know to opt out? Facebook just took a lot of heat for that very issue. If you delete your profile, it’s still there no matter what you do. I think they’re starting to change their policy. There is a safety issue; if something goes wrong and there is a data breach among those who requested privacy, it doesn’t matter if the info was suppressed or not. You have put those people in more danger than if they weren’t in that database at all,” she says.

On Jigsaw’s privacy policy…

Openness of information and transparency does far more good than harm, says Fowler:

“Privacy policy is meant for membership. The 8.2 million records have been added by our members, and less than 500 members have asked to be removed. The big issue is around personal data, and what do you consider personal data. We don’t touch non-business information. My mama told me, “Jimbo, there’s three subjects I never want you to discuss at a dinner party: politics, religion, and privacy. I’m kidding, but I think people react to privacy in much the same way as the first two. The key thing is, this is not a legal issue, it’s an ethical issue. What are the opinions of the ethics? Jigsaw always complies with the law,” he says.

On public information online…

For good or bad, Jigsaw is just part of today’s reality, says Fowler:

“You would be amazed how many databases you live on, and you have no clue you’re on there. Unlike Jigsaw, which is very open. This is all part of a broader trend that started with the Internet and has been going on since the beginning of time. Data becomes more open, and the Web has done this beautifully. Whether it’s information from a business card or information about corporations, there’s not a damn thing we can do to stop that,” he says.

On hunting new talent…

Transparency is a good thing for recruiters, says Fowler:

“I believe that most people view it as better to be out, because there is a lot of good that happens. My point is that this transparency is the net effect; the people who don’t know about what jobs are available, it’s impossible to get them that data without it,” says Fowler.

On Jigsaw vs. MySpace…

Parents need not worry about their kids’ information ending up on Jigsaw, says Fowler.

“If people gain access to your kids’ information on Jigsaw, well, they’re asking her about a job; Myspace is the danger.”

On public surveys on privacy…

Most people aren’t bothered by being part of Jigsaw, says Fowler.

“We believe there is a relatively small percentage of people who are concerned. Perhaps 2% or 3% of the world who really care about their business cards. Privacy is a huge issue, but my point is that most people don’t care about this particular piece of data,” he says.

On credit card data…

While Pierce spoke on credit-card security breaches, and how Jigsaw is a part of the bigger problem, one audience member piped in to disagree. Lou Adler interrupted Pierce as she spoke, alleging that Pierce is using the wrong laws for her source of information. He accused Pierce of “using the wrong information here,” while she spoke on victims of identity theft. Meanwhile, Fowler explained that “you absolutely do not need a credit card to get off Jigsaw. All you have to do is email us at and confirm who you are and your information will be suppressed.”

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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