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Recruit Career hit with correction advisory for selling data on student job-hunters

Recruit Career Co. President Daizo Kobayashi, left, and executive officer Kazuyuki Asano offer an apology during a press conference in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Aug. 26, 2019. (Mainichi/Koichiro Tezuka)

TOKYO -- The government's Personal Information Protection Commission (PPC) determined on Aug. 26 that Recruit Career Co. violated the law by selling to companies data on the probability of job-hunting students declining informal job offers and issued a rectification advisory to the firm.

The Tokyo-based company is under fire for providing data obtained through its "Rikunabi" job information website by analyzing records of students browsing through its corporate pages and other information with artificial intelligence (AI).

The PPC concluded that Recruit Career's sales of the data to its client companies without obtaining consent from the students constitutes a violation of the Act on the Protection of Personal Information and issued a correction advisory, including a review of the firm's organizational structure. The advisory was the first of its kind issued by the commission.

As the number of students whose personal data was provided without their consent totaled 7,983, the PPC pointed out that Recruit Career "managed the information inappropriately and caused tremendous repercussions in society."

The advisory is aimed at calling for measures to rectify the firm's actions running counter to the law. Specifically, the PPC requested that Recruit Career revamp its organizational structure and change staff awareness, as well as that the firm properly handle personal information in its future services. The commission asked the company to report the content of its improvements by Sept. 30.

Under the Act on the Protection of Personal Information, business operators are required to obtain a person's consent if they are to provide the person's information to a third party. According to the PPC, Recruit Career updated its privacy policy in March this year regarding gaining consent from the persons concerned, but was found to have sold personal information on students who had signed up on its website before the update was made and for whom a screen asking whether they agree to provision of their personal data was not displayed.

After the irregularities emerged, the PPC conducted an on-site inspection at Recruit Career on Aug. 20 and interviewed its staff. As a result of these and other investigations, the commission concluded that the firm violated the Act on the Protection of Personal Information, which provides for the obligation of safe management of personal information.

The PPC also instructed the firm to provide proper explanations to students who agreed to provision of their personal information, stating, "The explanation that their information will be provided to third parties is difficult to understand."

Recruit Career has already scrapped the data sales service in question. Before the halt, it had provided the data to 34 out of 38 companies that had signed up for the service. The PPC is also investigating whether there was any improper handling of the data by the client companies.

In a related development, the Tokyo Labor Bureau of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is also probing Recruit Career and other entities based on the Employment Security Act.

Recruit Career President Daizo Kobayashi held a press conference in Tokyo on the evening of Aug. 26, where he said, "I offer my deepest apology for causing trouble to many people."

Kobayashi disclosed that a total of 74,878 students were subject to the analysis of the probability of turning down informal job offers.

Rikunabi boasts some 800,000 student users and over 30,000 corporate customers annually. The website carries various companies' recruiting information and organizes job fairs and other events.

A 20-year-old third-year student at Chuo University said she is planning to sign up with Rikunabi. "I heard some companies accept applications for internships and main job screenings only from students registered with Rikunabi."

However, she raised questions about the data provision scandal. "I find it problematic that individuals' intentions (browsing history) were provided as personal information before they knew," she said, adding that the companies that purchased the personal data would also be to blame "if they had decided on whether to hire students by taking the provided data at face value."

She confided that she began to use "secret mode" that enables users to leave no browsing history when she views websites for job searching and other activities as the incident led her to develop a feeling of distrust.

Kazuharu Funato, 59, head of Meiji University's employment and career support department, expressed his anger over the data provision scandal. "It cannot be overlooked because the website as a platform for job seekers betrayed students," he commented.

Funato added, "While companies that purchased data on the probability of students declining informal job offers have been publicly identified bit by bit, students are still left uninformed of what details of their information were traded."

(Japanese original by Masanori Makita and Kenichi Mito, City News Department; Atsuko Motohashi, Business News Department; Akiko Mabuchi, Regional News Department; and Keisuke Umeda, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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