Glassdoor Wants to Know Your Real Name

Using Glassdoor, the site famous for candid employee reviews that break through corporate facades, is less anonymous than it used to be.

In July last year, the company added new social features integrated from Fishbowl, an app for work-related discussions acquired in 2021. Glassdoor has also changed its sign-up process to ask people to disclose their full name, job title, and employer; historically, it had required email addresses, but not names. In tests by WIRED, returning users who didn’t previously provide a full name are prompted to enter one by an impossible-to-dismiss pop-up that says, “Entering your real name is required to verify your profile but other users won’t see your name unless you choose to share it.”

Reviews of employers posted to Glassdoor remain anonymous, and people can post in its new discussion channels with only their work titles or employer visible, but the company’s policy of collecting and verifying real names has triggered concern among some users and privacy experts.

Alarm about those changes recently spread on social media, where several people described logging in to old Glassdoor accounts and allegedly finding their names had been added, they say, without their consent. WIRED reviewed emails in which one user was told by a Glassdor support representative that they would not be able to remove their name, and would have to delete their account if they wanted it gone. Glassdoor did not provide comment on these scenarios. When this reporter attempted to delete or change her name from a Glassdoor profile, the site instead provided a link to contact the help center to make changes.

Glassdoor’s help pages say it has to verify identities and employment information to “ensure that our users can engage in authentic, candid conversations with other professionals, coworkers, and company leaders in a safe space.” Having verified identity info on file could also make it more seamless for people to respond to the job ads listed on the platform. But trying to maintain that accuracy comes with a cost.

“You can’t both be verified and anonymous,” says Albert Fox Cahn, founder and executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a pro-privacy organization. “You can’t both be a social network and a confidential reporting space. You can do one of those well, or you can do both of them badly.”

The concerns over Glassdoor’s evolving policies on real names show how confusion can arise when a platform that many people visit only infrequently shifts its business model. Amanda Livingood, Glassdoor’s VP of corporate communications, provided a statement saying that integrating Fishbowl with Glassdoor created a broader set of services that user information is now shared across—a different model to that many people with older Glassdoor accounts signed up for. Fishbowl’s old terms of service state that people who signed up for accounts may have been required to add their names.

“When a user provides information, either during the sign-up process or by uploading a résumé, that information will automatically cross-populate between all Glassdoor services, including our community app Fishbowl,” Livingood says. “When using Glassdoor and Fishbowl, there is always the option to remain anonymous. Users can choose to be fully anonymous or reveal elements of their identity, like company name or job title, while using our community service.” Company help pages say real names and email addresses are used only for “verification purposes only.”

Glassdoor has a history of working to keep its users’ identities private, but there are concerns about these identity changes. “Glassdoor has been second to none in defending their user’s First Amendment rights,” says Aaron Mackey, a senior staff attorney with the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation. He represented a Glassdoor user in a case initiated in 2019 when their former employer, cryptocurrency exchange Kraken, attempted to unmask the authors of reviews, alleging that former workers had violated severance agreements with their posts. (The parties settled and the subpoena was withdrawn in 2020).

The current terms, Mackey says, are a big shift. “This is concerning, if the way in which they’re operating their business now creates potential for people to be identified, separate from whether or not they’re sued.”

Glassdoor won name recognition by marketing itself as a place focused on protecting anonymity, but companies with smaller workforces have always had good odds at guessing who wrote a particular review. That might be even easier if managers can also see social channels on Glassdoor where people are posting with their real names, indicating which workers have accounts on the site. People unaccustomed to thinking about their online footprint could inadvertently leave big clues, for example, by posting anonymously and then less covertly at the same time.

Glassdoor’s terms cite the risk. “You acknowledge that Glassdoor cannot guarantee your anonymity,” as a company or department’s size, the content posted, and the user’s location may allow employers’ to infer who left a review, the document says. “You should understand this risk before submitting Content to the services.”

Social Pivot

Glassdoor’s acquisition of Fishbowl in 2021 united two platforms that lured users by hosting relatively unfiltered discussions of work, a place to pick up the kind of gossip more often shared in person. Together they had offered a counterweight to LinkedIn, which relies on people using their full identities and often results in rose-tinted, overly congratulatory, and sometimes downright cringey posts about work.

Glassdoor is owned by Recruit Holdings, which also owns Indeed. Indeed and Glassdoor profit from advertising open jobs. Some 55 million people visit Glassdoor every month, according to the company. Verifying profiles could help prevent trolls from posting fake information about companies and misleading those seeking an insider’s view—all of which erode trust with other users.

Changing policies on names and verification can erode trust, too. If Glassdoor isn’t so anonymous, it may change how some of those users engage. The recent social media discussion inspired some people to try and delete their accounts.

Tracking the evolution of Glassdoor’s terms of service shows how its commitments to users changed as it began to add new social features. The company consolidated its terms with Fishbowl between December 2022 and January 2023, months before the company announced the new discussion channels on Glassdoor.

Some of the changes to the terms added information about how users are verified, as well as how they can be anonymous across services. Glassdoor’s terms of use state that the company may use information obtained from third parties to update profiles, along with personal data provided on résumés or elsewhere on its services. It may also attempt to verify employment history.

Glassdoor’s approach is very different from that of Blind, a younger, competing forum where people discuss work. It requires an email to sign up, and a work email to access certain features, but says that it does not store email addresses, and that activity on the site cannot be linked back to a person’s email. Blind does not require real names to use its services, but employers could potentially know an employee signed up by seeing they received a verification code at a company email address.

Glassdoor calls its community aspects a “verified network,” requiring people to confirm their identity, including name, job title, industry, company, and active email address or social network to gain access to all of the Glassdoor services. (It also recommends handing over both work and personal email addresses, as well as a phone number.) On a page updated in December, Glassdoor says it uses a “proprietary verification process” to validate accounts, along with confirming emails or an active profile from another social network.

The company’s help pages also say, “We don’t allow anyone, including employers, to access the identity of anonymous posts.”

But Glassdoor’s pages add a caveat: “Considering the reality of our digital age, we’re unable to fully confirm our users’ identities, the truthfulness of their contributions, or their employment status.”