Surveillance capitalism has multiplied the number of eyes on us at all times. Ubiquity of security cameras, traffic cameras, and cell phones with cameras have made it possible for law enforcement to track a suspect’s movements for entire city blocks. And that’s not counting the omnipresent eye of social media, where photo and geo tags can assist law enforcement and private investigators with locating suspects, witnesses, and collect information about a location without having to leave the comfort of their offices in what is now called a “geosocial investigation.”
Before the age of geo-data on social media, employees who called off work on Friday to enjoy a three-day weekend in Atlantic City had no fears of being discovered on Monday by a nosy employer who checked their social media. When social media was in its formative years, a private investigator would be lucky to be scraping the social media of a subject who was indiscriminate about what they chose to post on their Myspace page. Nowadays, employees have to be more cautious regarding posts about their out-of-work activities than ever, with many employees maintaining two Facebook pages—a work Facebook populated by posts that would not offend the most fastidious human resource employee, and a personal Facebook where employees reveal themselves, warts and all, with no regard for who might see the pages. Now, the new reality of surveillance capitalism has changed the world of third-party investigations forever with the assistance of geosocial investigations.
Geosocial investigations are a subset of social media investigations, where the focus of the research centers around a place, rather than a single individual. After all, if you fraudulently submit an FMLA claim that prevents you from working, you’d be very careful not to post any pictures of yourself enjoying vigorous activities, like yard work or hiking. However, if you’re in a group of individuals—all with smartphones and social media profiles of their own—it’s nearly impossible to prevent all pictures of yourself from seeing the light of the internet. This newfound culture of hypervigilance and surveillance may sound like it’s harder for law enforcement and private investigators to squeeze blood from the stone of social media, but where individuals might be protective of their own information online, their friends and relatives may not.
Deriving information on a subject from the social media profiles of their friends and family is a major tenant of geosocial investigations. Exposure online is not limited to pictures. Social media widgets that allow users to check in at specific locations, or add geotags to the photos they post, are also exposing malingering employees during internal investigations. Law enforcement can use this technology to search for social media posts geotagged at the time of an auto-accident in order to locate witnesses. By the same token, they can use it to identify people who are posting in restricted areas where civilians are not allowed. The effect of this technology allows a private investigator to “crowdsource” the information, saving themselves hours of tracking down witnesses and interviewing them.
Geo-social investigations are just one consequence of the world’s newfound surveillance capitalism. As the technology continues to mature and become more sophisticated, social media will continue to expose criminals and malingerers. Employers will see a rise in the exposure of employees abusing FMLA claims. Former employees violating non-compete agreements will be exposed before they have a chance to get a new business venture off the ground. Law enforcement and private investigators will be able to crowdsource investigations with the use of geo-social data.
Carie McMichael is the Media and Communications Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. For more information please visit our website.
Using a CNC to protect your business means the peace of mind that your trade secrets are safe.
If you own your own business, you know finding the right people to build your company is vital. One “weak link in the chain,” as they say, can tear a business down to its foundation. And as such, it’s not only important to hire the right people, but also protect your business from being exploited in the event a former employee might expose trade secrets. If it is your business’ practice to require a signature of an employee on a covenant not to compete, you should consider having a private investigator on retainer in order to vet any suspicions of non-compete violations.
Often referred to as a non-compete clause, a covenant not to compete or CNC is designed to protect an employer’s business against future competition or theft of trade secrets by a former employee. In essence, the CNC prevents a former employee, terminated or otherwise, from using a business’ trade secrets to either work for or start a rival business. Violators of CNC have an intimate knowledge of a particular business and can use that information to destroy it. In addition to exploiting the successes of a company by using the same strategies, a violator uses their knowledge to exploit the weaknesses of a company. They know where the vulnerable spots are in their business model, and violators can correct this process in the rival business, as well as, target their former employer in advertisements.
These legal contracts have a history going back as far as the 15th century, when English common law refused to enforce the Renaissance-era CNCs on the grounds they would place too many restrictions on trade. There have been many arguments made CNCs also interfere with America’s capitalist economy, placing restraints on the free-market standards in the United States. There are only a few states in the union completely prohibiting the use of non-competes, including California, Montana, North Dakota, and Oklahoma. One of the industries where CNCs are most common is the media. Most media-conglomerates force employees to sign CNCs at the time of hire to prevent them from sharing delicate information about media markets upon leaving their position. Another common industry is finance, especially Wall Street, where a person can literally be indicted for knowing too much, having been charged with insider-trading. Many might remember reading about CNCs back in 2005, when Microsoft and Google took a former employee, Kai-Fu Lee, to task by enforcing his CNC after leaving the company. CNCs are everywhere, and as such, businesses would be wise to employ external investigators to get the hard facts on CNC violations.
As was the case with FMLA fraud violations within a company, having an external investigator—like a PI—on retainer, will allow the company to protect itself in the event they believe a former employee has violated their CNC. The fallout from CNC violations can be ugly, with former employees insisting, not only did they not violate their CNC, but also they are being persecuted by their former employer. A private investigator is a third-party, which means they are well within their means to be objective. A private investigator’s loyalty is to the truth, as such, you can rely on cold-hard facts to bolster a case against a CNC violator. This objectivity comes in handy during litigation when enforcing a CNC.
The former employee cannot claim their employer is biased in their fact-finding, because they did not conduct the investigation. While a business can sue a former employee for violation of a CNC, it is not a criminal matter, so a business cannot ask law enforcement to investigate. Luckily, private investigators often have a resume bearing similar experience to law enforcement, as well as ,a very similar set of tools to find answers. They can locate witnesses, witness statements, videotapes, photographs, and acquire documents to build a prima facia case against a CNC violator. Whatever the circumstances, having an objective external investigator on retainer will provide businesses with the assurance they have conducted all necessary steps to safeguard their company.